Cougars, Witches & Aliens: The 2009 ABC TCA Summer Press Tour – Feature – Part II
The second part of ABC’s summer press tour is even more dramatically scripted than the first which was highlighted by the season’s rookie to beat. But with a Jerry Bruckheimer drama starring Christian Slater, a “Witches Of Eastwick” update, a series remake of “V” and a new Courteney Cox-black comedy entitled “Cougar Town”, ABC is betting the farm on a variety of interesting but at times risky propositions.
Executive Session: Stephen McPherson (President/ABC Entertainment) The first question posed to McPherson was the inherent bear of the tour which was the perception of Jay Leno’s 10pm show in contradiction to scripted late prime shows. The exec responded that NBC is in transition and they (at ABC) are waiting to see what the prime time move in terms of effectiveness turns out to be. He plans to compete for the viewers as his mandate is to make the broadcast element of his company vibrant. He believes in terms of series that ABC has to remain ambitious. He says projects like “Lost” have been very fortuitous for them but states that you have to look at each show differently. “Flash Forward” he agrees needs to have that cinematic feeling. He says that there is alot of great drama out there and sees the 10pm hour as a major opportunity in the current marketplace.
In terms of some other new shows at ABC, he speaks that when he heard that Warners was going out with a TV take on “The Witches Of Eastwick”, he thought it was a great fun way to do a female driven series. Rebecca Romijn was such a trooper going back to work. He makes the joke that she was doing the role an hour and a half after having her twins.
In terms of some shows getting the axe, he says that those decisions are among the biggest challenges in determining how patient you can be. Sometimes it has to do with how it affects your schedule. For others (he cites “Pushing Daisies”) the writer’s strike derailed them.
Other shows by comparison are making their way from other networks, “Scrubs” will still be called “Scrubs” but it will be different in its construct in terms of the hospital versus teaching. McPherson adds that Zach Braff will be back but for a limited amount of time.
In terms of the thought of possibly bringing Paula Abdul into the fray of “America’s Got Talent” after her sudden and supposed break from “American Idol”, McPherson said that he was stunned and actually had already put in a call to her. His quote: “We’d love to get a piece of that.”
Questioned about the lack of movie of the week and/or miniseries product which used to be a mainstay of ABC, McPherson says that there is a very specific business model for those types of projects which they have looked at but just doesn’t fit the marketplace right now. However he said he would love for it to be a business again for them.
Coming back to the NBC/Leno move, McPherson thinks it was a decision of cost containment versus what it can do for the network or the studio. He doesn’t think anyone believes that Leno could do a 5 rating in that time slot but he believes a drama series could.
The series that could do it in fact could possibly be “Flash Forward” though McPherson doesn’t state this. He does say however that he would like to have some of the success that “Lost” has had with this new show. “Flash Forward” he said was a spec that Goyer and his team had done for HBO. ABC he says wasn’t trailing for a series like this but agrees that there are similarities in terms of the epic nature of the canvas and that of “Lost”. However he believes that as “Flash Forward” evolves, the two series will be seen very differently.
McPherson says that the current next season comedy push on ABC with “Hank” and “Modern Family” was a conscious decision. He also states that “Romantically Challenged” will be back midseason possibly in a block with “Scrubs” and “Better Off Ted”. He also admits they did cut budgets as is the norm right now.
He said there was some success with “Samantha Who” but the series never gained full traction. “Ugly Betty” is still going strong and was never cancelled. He says that there are still great plans for it and that it will stay in NY in terms of shooting for at least another year. In terms of “Grey’s Anatomy”, Katherine Heigl is back while he confirms that TR Knight has left. Ellen Pompeo will be out for a couple episodes while she is having her baby.
McPherson does think Shonda (the show runner on “Grey’s” and “Private Practice”) has hit her stride. He says the creative direction of “Practice” at the end of last year was a good lesson for him as an executive because he wasn’t sure if the angle was going to work. He says though that Shonda pulled it off.
In thought of “Better Off Ted” (another severely underrated show with bite), McPherson says that summer was tough in general. He says that they have tabled a couple episodes of that series but would have liked a better performance from it. TV, of course, is not an easy game.
The Forgotten This series on a group of people who track down missing persons works a little differently than most Jerry Bruckheimer TV vehicles. While it is still forensic and procedural in nature, the characters in it, save for one, have day jobs.
Bruckheimer admits he loves mystery. Audiences, he believes, are enamoured with crimes and the solving of them. In terms of this series, it is about someone coming in and being a White Knight to these people who have lost someone. Christian Slater wasn’t in the original pilot and actually was a late addition to the cast.
Jerry jokes that they couldn’t find Slater at the beginning because he was somewhere in Russia (presumably Jerry making reference to Slater’s now defunct NBC Show “My Own Worst Enemy”). Bruckheimer’s thought is that Slater brings “versimilitude” to the series.
Slater, for his part, said that he enjoyed his time on “My Own Worst Enemy” but wasn’t thinking about going back into TV right away. He half jokingly says that the deal came together in a locker room. His agent and Bruckheimer play on opposing teams in Bruckheimer’s famous industry insider hockey league which is how the conversation started. Slater was interested in mystery in terms of form as he had started a year before reading three chapters a night of “Nancy Drew” to his daughter who influenced him with her excitement. That was initially the angle that he loved about “My Own Worst Enemy” because that was about a guy who was very human who had some phenomenally extraordinary experiences.
Exec Producer Marc Friedman says that the group of people in the series are amateurs in terms of their characters. Their focus is finding these people who have been lost. Fellow exec producer Jonathan Littman says that the show fulfills the same perspective as alot of crime dramas in that there needs to be closure.
Rochelle Aytes, who plays Detective Grace, offers an angled perspective of the team, saying that she is the closer for the Jane Does and is tough and passionate but she also keeps Alex (Christian Slater’s character) from going downhill which indicates some interesting emotional challenges for the actor.
Danny Cannon (who directed the action film “Judge Dredd” and serves as one of the directors on the show as well as an exec producer) says what interested him in terms of the style of the show was being able to show “death backwards”. For him the visual motif needed to have a spiritual structure in terms of seeing death through the eyes of these people and then, by contrast, a godlike element encroaching on the invesigators through these missing persons. If even a bit of what Cannon described can be created or filmed (and it is a possibility considering the achievements of CSI), this film could be Bruckheimer’s next big hit.
Cougar Town The title of this series gets you off the bat especially since Courteney Cox is in it. She showed in the FX series “Dirt” that she was willing to go the distance for the jugular if need be. The woman had no fear. Matching her with Bill Lawrence, the cool and ultimately outspoken exec producer on both this and “Scrubs”, is a grand time waiting to happen since Lawrence seems game for anything. He is a young exec at barely over 40 and still has that great enthusiasm and balls out approach which can translate into fascinating TV.
Lawrence starts off saying that we are still in a sexist and misogynistic society and that a series like “Cougar Town” has the possibility of alot of traps. The assumption is that the show would be written by guys but, in actuality, this one has a majority of female writers which he is very proud of. He jokes that they titled the show this way so they could set the bar low. He also says that in life he has heard both sides of the female perspective of the word, whether it be one of empowerment or not.
He admits he and his wife (who plays one of Courteney’s friends in the series) are in their 40s as is Courteney (you can see Courteney wince). The hardest angle of network television in the current marketplace for Bill is making noise. If you do so people will be aware of the show. All you can do then is cross your fingers and see with the subsequent scripts if it is a show that works. He says that the age range between Courteney and her son on the show is respective to him and his father in real life as they are only separated by 20 years. The key to the proceedings with these kind of relationships is that Courteney can play discomfort exceedingly well.
Lawrence admits that he likes shows like “True Blood” and jokes that he enjoys watching the vampires’ orgies of blood. However the key with television in any shape is that you shouldn’t walk on the edge just for the sake of it. “Cougar Town” will be aired in a 9:30 timeslot and will have a warning on it. But, for him, it is truly about a character going after the world.
Seemingly a little nervous, Lawrence says that he rarely has this much trepidation with a show but that he doesn’t want to fail Courteney. He was inspired by his wife in the gestation of some elements of the series, specifically in the pilot. His wife, now sitting only a couple feet from him, had just had their baby when the idea started to formulate. She was passing through the bathroom going to the shower and stopped and looked at herself in the mirror. She simply said “Fuck”. That is such a clear and present concept for the idea, even though Lawrence’s wife did seem a little embarrassed by his admission and telling of the story.
Lawrence continues that the zeitgeist would be to show something so age inappropriate. Courteney’s character in the series says that “the bummer about being single at 40 is that al the men are broke, gay or dating younger girls”. For Lawrence it was essential to create two characters as romantic leads in the series who had chemistry but had no interest in being together as a result of their recent divorces. Lawrence whispers like a ventriloquist to goad Cox about possibly having Jennifer Aniston guest on the show. Cox jokes that she doesn’t discount it.
Lawrence also addresses, as is the norm this year, the aspect of NBC and the Leno influx into the 10pm slot since “Scrubs” was originally on that network. First and foremost, Bill comments: “Ben [Silverman] is not trying to destroy television …someone else is.” He follows up saying that “it is sad for scripted TV but they [NBC] has created this onorous situation.”
He then speaks to the new slate at ABC saying he wants more forward thinking which is apparent at this network. He thinks “Modern Family” is a kick ass sitcom and both “Flash Forward” and “Eastwick” are good shows. He says good TV is all about execution. He knows he is good at this and Courteney is good at this but nowadays there is a limited window to make a splash. He will market the show as much as possible. He even jokes that he will go get a tattoo on his chest for “Cougar Town” and suggests that we go to the bar right now. Lawrence is a force of nature and his enthusiasm is infectious.
Courteney Cox, by comparison, barely gets in a word since Lawrence by design is this hurricane of enthusiasm. Lawrence had said that Cox doesn’t use a body double for her introduction scenes in the pilot. Cox, by contrast, makes the point that people don’t look on TV the way they look in real life. In terms of the actual word “cougar”, she says that it would be a great term if we knew the term for a man doing the same thing. A shout comes out from inside the room: “a man” (which gets a roar of laughter from everyone).
Cox says that ‘Cougar Town” is not Samantha from “Sex & The City”. She wanted to get back to comedy. She recalls being 40 and laying in bed with Coco (her daughter with husband David Arquette) right after she was born. She jokes “Should I give this [the baby] back to someone?” She says that getting older is harder anyway and says “it would be really scary if I wasn’t married”. She also mentions that Aniston is making a movie called “Pumas”. The joke that ends the panel is that a “puma” is a cougar in her 30s. And the laughs keep on coming.
Eastwick Doing a TV update of the classic movie from 1987 is fraught with either possibility or challenge depending on how it is done. The aspects here are workable but not quite focused yet. The show runner hints at some crossover, hints to the mythology and also the casting of original cast member Veronica Cartwright as a mystery character.
Maggie Friedman, the show runner, specifies that they wanted to appeal to both the female and the male demographic but that they didn’t want to copycat “Desperate Housewives” but still would like some of their viewership. She pays reverence to the original movie starring Jack Nicholson as “iconic” but says that it was very much of its time. The characters here are quite different.
In the 1987 movie, the magic of the female characters are very efemeral according to Maggie. Here, by contrast, there is a very specific reason for each woman’s powers. Veronica Cartwright, who played a different character in the original movie, is back as a different character who may or may not be a former witch. Friedman says she loves Veronica’s scream which got a lot of wear and tear in the first “Alien” movie as well.
The town of Eastwick was rebuilt on the Warner Ranch in Burbank, just blocks away from the lot with Maria Caso doing the production design. For Maggie, she has the storylines planned out in tandem. The first year plan addresses the theme of empowerment but follows the structure of Darryl (that horny little devil) coming in and seducing the women and the town. There will most certainly be winks and homages to the film she promises. Maggie teases that the character that Cartwright plays might in fact be one of the witches from the 80s since it is the same town and 20 years have passed. Maybe Darryl was actually in this Eastwick in a different form back then. For her, it is all about metaphors.
Maggie also teases that Cybill Shepherd might play one of the other witches from back then as well. But it all has to have motivation. An example she uses in terms of the magic crossed with the character structure is that Joanna can hypnotize other people. This keys into the aspect that her character’s true nature is shy and quiet and needs to learn to stand up for herself. This magic allows her to do. It is like it knows what she wants which for them is their allure to Darryl. The unspoken truth is that Darryl needs them infinitely more than they need him but they need to be able to harness their power.
Maggie addresses the input of John Updike, the original author of the book, who she was able to speak to before he died. He however knew that the concept was being made into a TV show. The writing staff, like “Cougar Town” is distinctly mixed, with six women to six men which should allow for an interesting dichotomy of stories. Maggie believes that the show will definitely appeal to men since Darryl is living a fantasy.
For his part as Darryl, the devil, Paul Cross chose this as his first part in an American show after much time overseas. He is seemingly suited to the task. Like Pierce Brosnan was to Sean Connery in Bond so is Paul to Jack in this role. Cross admits that there are many kinds of devils but keys in with a bit of fun that “my powers are limitless” which means he can do anything. He has got a little bit of flack about his hair but they found a balance, a small price to pay.
In terms of being compared or playing Jack, he says Jack is “like Mount Rushmore” and there is no comparison. You can’t climb that kind of performance but Paul thought he could bring something slightly different to this part and could really do something with it. And he saw the upside: His character knows everything. His character runs the world. He gets to work with amazingly beautiful women. Plus he had no idea how he was going to do it. Sounds like a plan.
The girls by contrast saw a degree of clarity within their ambitions.
Rebecca Romijn, who recently had twins with husband Jerry O’Connell, jumped into the fray 8 weeks after she delivered as the character of Roxie. Like Demi Moore in “’Indecent Proposal”, this coud be a real boon to the part since it adds another texture that could be quite interesting. The twins were on set with her most of the time. Now O’Connell is taking some time off to be with them while Rebecca is working on this. She says the part by design is a bit of a double edged sword. She takes on the Cher role in her mind in terms of the coven of witches. She was a big fan of the movie when it came out since she was a teenager. She distinctifies that this character is the closest to her real personality that she has ever played.
The other two witches also have distinctiveness and perception to who their witches are and what they will become. Lindsay Price, who plays Joanna, also agrees that this character is very close to her own personality. In playing the Susan Sarandon role in glasses and a bun, she admits to her own awkwardness, even though in front of me she looks like a stunner. And, on screen, she is even more alluring like one of teachers in Van Halen’s “Hot For Teacher” video.
Jamie Ray Newman, by comparison, says her character Kat (the Michelle Pfieffer role) went from being a teenager to a mom and is in denial of her powers even though hers is the most dynamic visually. Kat is a character that loves safety and security and her new situation flies in the face of everything she believes because the devil made her do it.
V There had been talk for many years of the retelling of this 80s miniseries into a full fledged series. What seemed to make the gelling finally click was the critical success of “Battlestar Galactica” which took the different themes of terrorism and placed them in a sci-fi conundrum. “V” does the same thing in many ways. Another parallel is that Zoic Studios who did a lot of the FX work on “Galactica” in their early seasons is working on this as well. The first announcement which made the cast distinctly earnest was the fact that they premiere November 3rd at 8pm.
Exec producer Scott Peters (who worked on “The 4400”) said that in moving forward they didn’t want to stop the original themes in addition with blending the modern elements of a post 9/11 world. Because of the writers’ strike, the show was developed over a long period of time. The key became apparent in the news of everyday where people were searching for change.
The sell of the show began to be “What if aliens showed up and could solve all our problems?” The key is that in that these kind of shows, idealogy needs to remain open to interpretation. He says that they are very sure of where the storylines are going for the first and second seasons as well as where the end lies. They did meet with Kenneth Johnson (the miniseries creator) but admitted that this is a brand new take.
In terms of effects, they are approaching the interior of the ship with virtual world technology which allows the camera to move around within the space while making every angle and perspective different. This, Peters hopes, wows the audience on a weekly basis since they will be visiting the ships in every episode. However, he does admit that they are shooting in Vancouver and not NY but believes that the difference will not be noticable.
Elizabeth Mitchell, best known as Juliet on “Lost”, was intrigued by her character Erica on “V”. She likes traditional heroes and had never gotten to play one before. She says that she was on a panel with Sigourney Weaver a while back who had said that she always in these sorts of pictures picks the men’s roles. Mitchell had watched the original in the 80s as well. In perspective to “Lost”, she says that she is going back to shoot in Hawaii but cannot say if she is dead or alive considering what happened in the final moment of last season.
Morena Baccarin plays Anna, the smooth and elegant alien who is able to disarm the human race. There is something otherworldly about her. Baccarin says it is about being the face of what people want to see. She jokes that she did some research on being an alien but there is not much out there. The one thing in Anna she does see is the angle of her ambition.
In conclusion, exec producer Jeffrey Bell examines some of the elements that die hards might be looking for. He says when they talk to people, they hear about the rat and guinea pig moments with the lizards in the original miniseries. He agrees that they would be “morons” not to put those moments in but he also empahasizes that the agenda for the Vs is not what it was before.
By the end of the first season, the audience will have a full conception of the V’s agenda. Bell says they want to keep the stories within the character’s grounded lives. It is about freezing those frames of the emotional turmoil but also keying within the wish fulfillment element of it.
ABC Cocktail Party Within the Viennese Ballroom, the sushi became the mood enhancer. Talking off-the-cuff with Maggie Friedman who runs “Eastwick”, she says that they are going to push the limit and get a little bawdy with some of the stories. The story structures of these elements are coming into play. She makes reference to a vibrator subplot that runs through an episode mid-season that really highlights the humor which is so necessary to a series like this. At this point, Paul Cross, ever playing the part as Darryl, walks over with a scotch in hand. He relishes the role and gets to be naughty. Maggie reinforces the element of wish fulfillment in “Eastwick” that will appeal to both male and female viewers.
Outside, after stealing a gliding glance from V’s Morena Baccarin walking to the bar, “V” show runner Scott Peters talks about the essence of darkness within this incarnation of the show and why that balance will heighten the experience. HYe says they start shooting that following Monday in Vancouver first tweaking the pilot with some pick-ups before they start in on the new episodes. Mentioning Morena (whom I had just passed), Peters agrees that it is that kind of connection that will motivate the show. Tone, of course, in mentioning to him, is important. He says the writing staff reflects this with a couple people from 4400 but also some new blood. Score is also mentioned which is crucial. Peters says that they have hired Marco Beltrami who recently did “3:10 To Yuma” for that important task.
Heading inside towards the sushi bar, Nathan Fillion saunters to the bar, ever in his Castle role relishing the moment, while Stana Katic, who plays Detective Beckett, sits in the corner with her girlfriends conversing in a beautiful red dress which her character would scarsely be caught in at this point in the series.
The last interaction of the night was a welcome one in the form of the entire central cast of “Better Off Ted”, one of the best new underrated shows of the season. Lead actor Jay Harrington (who plays Ted), there with his girlfriend Adriana reminds one of the mainstream version of Don Draper but with infinitely more humor. He admits that at the beginning it was hard talking to camera because the 4th wall can be a finicky thing. I say though that the charm and chemistry between him and his co-star Andrea Anders who plays Linda is palpable. Andrea sanders over in a stunning backless dress but with a shy awkwardness that befits her character. Oddly enough the person I thought was Andrea’s publicist is actually Jonathan Slavin, who plays one of the scientists Phil. The transformation helped by make-up and some good acting chops is quite staggering. The other part of the duo: Malcolm Barrett (who plays Lem) comes over with a bit of stubble. Their real life personalities are so decidely different that you see the almost illicit balance that the show creates. From these four you can feel a family as they hang out and talk with me near the sushi bar.
Harrington says that they are going back to start shooting new episodes the following Monday which seems like a busy day for a lot of people. “Better Off Ted” deserves support (which I tell them) because the writing is sharp which they utterly appreciate. It is just a matter of steadying the course.
The essence of ABC continuing through this new fall season is one of interest and risk in storytelling but nonetheless one with major potential.
Posted on September 2, 2009, in Entertainment Industry Coverage and tagged abc, Andrea Anders, Battlestar Galactica, better off ted, bill lawrence, Burbank, castle, Cher, christian slater, cougar town, courteney cox, CSI, Cybill Shepherd, Danny Cannon, Darryl, Demi Moore, Desperate Housewives, Dirt, Eastwick, Elizabeth Mitchell, Ellen Pompeo, Feature, Flash Forward, Grey’s Anatomy, inside reel, Jack Nicholson, Jamie Ray Newman, Jay Harrington, Jeffrey Bell, Jennifer Aniston, jerry bruckheimer, Jerry O’Connell, John Updike, Jonathan Littman, Jonathan Slavin, Judge Dredd, Juliet, Kate Beckett, Katherine Heigl, Kenneth Johnson, Lindsay Price, Lost, Maggie Friedman, Malcolm Barrett, Marc Friedman, Marco Beltrami, Michelle Pfieffer, Morena Baccarin, My Own Worst Enemy, nathan fillion, Paul Abdul, Paul Cross, Private Practice, pushing daisies, Rebecca Romijn, Richard Castle, Rochelle Aytes, Scott Peters, Scrubs, Shonda Rhimes, Sigourney Weaver, Stana Katic, Stephen McPherson, Summer Press Tour, Susan Sarandon, TCA, television, The 4400, The Forgotten, The Witches Of Eastwick, tim wassberg, TR Knight, V, Vancouver, Veronica Cartwright, Warner Ranch, Zach Braff, Zoic Studios. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.