Structured Perceptions & Edgy Punchlines: The 2010 Montreal Just For Laughs Comedy Festival – Feature
The Just For Laughs Comedy Festival, held in Montreal, as an ideology, speaks to the balance between experience, life and its justification in the entertainment industry. One of the exceptional intensities of Montreal is its ability to interact and promote the arts within its own community. The progression of many festivals up and down the streets, especially resititute in street fairs and parades, shows an encouragement in the arts that might be missing in the daily life of other countries.
The workshop element of the arts, available locally through the affordable use of rehearsal studios and local productions prevalent throughout the city, shows the ability of artistic enhancement truly within the community. While performance art and stage productions seem to take a bigger take than music, the tendency is served also by the different pockets of artistic brilliance bounded by social interaction whether it be on Ste. Denis, off Bishop Street or on the backwater of Ste. Catherine.
Just For Laughs, simply as a conduit, has been a functional lightning rod for burgeoning and established talent. Funneling the material and bouncing it off other acts in a festival setting, whether it be comedy or otherwise, is necessary at times to figure out what truly works. Whether highlighting returning acts like Lewis Black or Billy Burr or bringing new friends into the fray like Cheech & Chong, the key is voice and perspective.
The performance galas, which use big names to anchor new and established stand-up talent, encourages the use of new ideas which ultimately is what creates and identifies burgeoning pop culture.
The Relationship Gala, the first in these sets of packages, seeks to approach the ideals of the modern texture of companionship but within the changing perception of marriage, the cyclical breakdown of the family unit and the accepting of evolving gender roles. These perceptions offer a mine of prevalent material but also intuit social commentary within the minds of new comedic voices. Some skirt the issue while others bitterly flaunt its faults.
Brad Garrett hosted this showcase but most lucidly used his icy vise on the complacent element of the audience, more than egregiously in the front row. The idea of societal roles, based on a global context in terms of Garrett’s ideas, makes for funny outlays despite the critical edge he perceives. This became especially noticeable once the structure moved in for audience interaction. The man many know as the lovable goof from “Raymond” showed the delightful venom that he also retracts on himself. The questions from the crowd ranged from a flirtacious gay man to a federal lawyer who happened to be there with his daughter to a newly engaged French teacher there with her Egyptian fiance which caused no lack of reprisal in terms of stereotype restructure Garrett unleashed.
Within this structure of relationships. the more innocent approach with an edge of sneer seemed to provide a basis for rising spirits of goodwill among the continuing and following foray of comedians.
Tim Minchin, with his foppish branding of a persona between Russell Brand and Dominic Monahan on “Lost”, captured the audience despite his offputting spaciness gag (which tends to serve him well on the BBC and within the Buzzcocks brand). The Brit established his litheness in an opening song without hesitation using an undeniable ballad explaining the viable positives in his mind for blow-up sex dolls. While his in-between banter rambled with flimsy but comedic gold, his love song to his wife on what she might do without him worked its intention well on the crowd.
The Doo Wops, engaging music as well as a framing mechanism but falling more within a SoHo version of “Flight Of The Conchords” (despite much less lyrical perceptions on their mind), used almost Simon & Garfunkel stigmata (without the genuine musical genius) to fashion two songs (detailing their ideas about the other guy in the group) which simply worked because the timing was so radically in sync.
Straddling the edge between the first two, the persistent voice continuing on was none other than Tom Papa, who hosts “The Marriage Ref ” on NBC. Jerry Seinfeld called him at last year’s TCA press tour one of the most funny comedians he has ever met with a genuine perception of marriage which allows him to be a very intrinsic judge of character. In a structure of material (which is not viscerally on status within NBC’s normal viewing population), the highlight in this JFL performance was witnessing some of the more uncensored views he had which made a slightly older heavy church going woman behind this writer lose her breath from laughing so hard. Papa’s ideas were fairly plain but undeniably effective in this fashion ranging everything between kids’ small talk in “smelling rainbows” to the “yapping” progression within the marriage life.
Best Of The Fest, which are smaller club based performances, envisions a strong cross-section of rising comics with a dexterity of hit-and-miss progression which at times visualizes their strengths and weaknesses between lack of theme and the balance of blue material. Hidden away here within the small club context of Comedyworks upstairs from an Irish pub off of Rue Bishop (compared to the large hall for The Relationship Gala on Rue St. Denis), certain contents of sets translate well while others suffer from a lack of pace.
The most successful by far because of the grace of his sheer talent despite the bar set in front of him by Jeff Dunham is Paul Zerdin who, like Dunham’s Walter, brought out his own puppet Sam who gave one of the audience members a little bit of a scolding. However after playing down his ventriloquism skills, Zerdin’s parlay of throwing his voice and later placing a volunteer with an actual dummy mask on worked exceptionally well.
Bret Ernst, known for his partake in Vince Vaughn’s Wild West Comedy Tour, highlighted the perceptions of “guidoism” with a bit of naughty structure specifically in terms of technique. Funny but squirming movement persisted amongst the audience yet women especially two in the back near your narrator especially loved it. Bill Burr, despite his own disclaimer, approached sexual idealism from a little more agressive point of view especially in terms of the yelling/argument dynamic between man and woman. However, his persistent parallels between a stand-up air conditioner perched just beyond the stage and his subject matter also gave a perspective of random thinking.
Two others from the “Best Of” line-up allowed for some intrepid thoughts. Glenn Wool, with a bit of the mannerisms of Bobcat Goldthwait combined with the political tactics of a sober Dude, drove the audience with thinking specifically with a slightly stoned-graced proliferation that was both thought out but precariously funny. Bonnie McFarlane, with her subtle “Reality Bites” situated humor (like the earlier Mary-Ellen Hooper) understands that the perception of ladies and mothers in comedy walks a thinner line than men (because of society’s changing perception of gender roles) thus making for a clever intellectualization of progressions.
“An Afternoon With Kevin Smith”, an outlay of the industry-specific conference of the festival, shows the following that this once-independent director has curtailed over the years. From his own words, this is the side of his fame he enjoys the most because, despite his lack of comic approach, his ideas and forthright opinions seem to interrelate just that, which is an odd progression. Like John Leguizamo, who has found a similar ideal but had always created an idea of a one-man show as a structure, Smith simply talks about his life which many people still find infinitely interesting even if he really doesn’t. The ballroom, in which the discussion was held, was packed beyond the gills.
After the Southwest Airlines debacle in which he famously swore off airplanes after getting in a PR war which undecidedly played into the release of his last film “Cop Out” starring Bruce Willis, Smith related another progression which had just happened that morning. He had taken to driving everywhere in a “Rock N’ Roll” bus as he calls it (which is more akin to one of the party shuttle buses). In crossing the border to go to Montreal, he and his crew got stopped and he was placed under arrest in his pajamas. While known as a celebrity pot smoker, he nonetheless said that he wasn’t carrying any since he “loves Canada too much” and didn’t want to get in trouble. The cops eventually let him go but something must have set them off. Smith was also very honest in his perception of being scared though this brush with the law will probably never make it to print in the newspapers because of the play-down factor.
After relating this story as well as the acquisition of the “Prom” Bus idea which was highlighted by his good friend Malcolm whom he produced the doc “Bear Nation” for, Smith continued to take questions from the audience which at best took on great diatribes but, with others, just related simple anecdotes. One of the most telling, which was a true moment of directing that was apparent in his film “Cop Out”, is when Smith (who says working with actor Willis was taxing for him) asked the movie star to play a moment of the movie like David Addison in “Moonlighting”. Smith’s reaction was true in that within the movie Willis drops away and you can see the true actor, not the persona, which is rare. But he was infinitely scared initially to speak of it to someone of Willis’ stature. It is these types of insights that Smith with his ideas straddling both worlds can understand and relate to the common man. Life is funny that way.
The Pamela Anderson Variety Gala, in terms of its host, seems an odd choice but her inherent influence in terms of pop culture in Montreal even reflects today. Her opening lines addressed the criticism her latest PETA ad with her fairly naked received to which she responded that it was “puritanical” coming from a city where the big tourist destination, in her mind, is strip clubs.
The variety essence of this program, which was paradoxical to the set up of The Relationship Gala, was inherently on view in the form of different ideas that, while interesting at times, were blase in others.
Like the night before at Comedyworks, the most effective performer was Paul Zerdin with his ventriloquist scenario. While within a club environment, the response was more intimate, the punch lines here also worked well on a larger scale especially when the puppet Sam reacted to the upstairs integration of the audience.
BluPrint, which was proceeded by Pam Anderson doing a tango on-stage, functioned as a dance crew and, while some of the barely legal females in the audience seemed to beat along, its overall reaction was delayed and underwhelming.
Beardyman, by comparison, foresaw the same reaction but despite this, his DJ skills were unmatched. Again, like BluPrint Crew, he was an unlikely performer at this type of festival because the setting did not truly allow his possibility to be put to the test. Upon first glance, he has Michael Winslow’s capability but when he retreats back behind the DJ set, the mixing is undeniably skilled but disconnected. A good example of this is when he took suggestions from the audience and created a mix from just his voice that mixed ideas of country, reggae, rockabilly and country. However, as indicated, the requisite impact was lost within the lack of context.
In structure of a smaller intimate venue at the Ste. Catherine Theater in a more youth-oriented district, Upright Citizens Brigade Montreal balanced a pair of performers which, while having moments of inspiration, tended to overplay the scenario.
Sean & Dominic work as a pair on general issues but work best within the sketches of specific possibilities like the one of “The Salesman Incarnate” highlighting ideals of perception in a changing marketplace. Another sketch “The Power”, revolving around how to use certain pick up lines in reverse to entice the female of the species, reflects more a sordid cynicism than an actual commentary on male/female relations.
More successful though infinitely less defined despite ideas in terms of his persona, Paul F. Tompkins began by relating his comments with Sean & Dominic on his vision of spiders. While front dwelling audience members started to find this progression of comedy hilarious, the immediate thought was that these were “friends” of the artist since the performance itself fell flat. The most diametrically effective story, despite this, involved an anecdote on a trip to The Magic Castle in Los Angeles and the inherent scam artist mentality inherent in its existence. Tompkins’ persona has potential but the step-by-step dynamics hit the mark very touch-and-go.
The late show by Jamie Kilstein at Ste. Catherine entitled “No War, No God, No Nickelback” filters from the idea of New York oratory functionality. More ensconced at times in beat poetry and the pulpit functionality, Kilstein pulls himself back into reality as his rants reach effective force. While the girls in the front enjoyed the perfunctory intelligence spewing from this mind, it was more a function of technique than specific knowledge. The effective structure that very much highlights the show is Kilstein’s perception of young Christian youth and the perspective they bring into child raising and sex from an altered point of view. While viciously honest at points, Kilstein’s insights don’t provide the balance (if one could call it that) of Glenn Wool at Comedyworks because effectively being the punchline has to be part of the persona.
The Cheech & Chong Gala brought the crowd to its feet with the duo hardly needing to move a muscle to entice the audience. Tommy Chong’s wife Shelby, lithe in her dress, started the festivities with stories about tripping on acid in a supermarket in Vancouver which is how she met Tommy. Cheech followed into the mix soon after but he was on the FBI Wanted List because he was the only Mexican to sneak over the Canadian border into the US. This laid back exchange between the two pros showed a dexterity but not abandon that one would expect. Still, the crowd ate it up. Their endurance continued including the performance of dance interlude between Tommy and Shelby as Cheech sang his Mexican anthem. There was also one dog sketch which perfectly suited the pair but seem mired in ideas of a lost pot idea. However, despite this, in between acts Tommy kept the timely quips coming purely on target especially involving the current Mel Gibson rant.
The comedians who followed had some dexterity but required a little more finite tweaking in terms of adhering to a bigger picture. Jim Jeffries, whose small one-man show had been selling out for nights, came across more rogue than vicious especially dealing with an insert of him in Baghdad that was less flattering than it was funny. However, his blind joke progression about bathroom wiping squarely hit the audience in the jaw.
Noel Fielding, as a comparative, used a Toronto reference that took an instant to get going, focusing on the rivalry between that city and Montreal which festers over the veracity of hockey. For a Brit, this approach signifies a lack of understanding of this country [Canada] while the parallels of soccer within Scottish and English perceptions can maintain pertinence in the UK for years.
Bill Burr, seen earlier at Comedyworks, seemed to take the larger stage in stride, riding on different material unlike some of the other comics who performed the same material over requisite nights. This showed a spontaniety that lifted him above the rest. His rant on the perspective of motherhood as a real job versus fighting a war was ironically funny especially his quip about “watching cartoons and taking naps”.
Lavell Crawford also stood out from the pack. Despite his girth, which was a focus of point in terms of obesity as a theme in many of the festival comics, the man carried his revelry with pride and dressed to kill in a killer yellow suit. His first perception hit on the mark balanced with undeniable facial expressions which bring to mind The Fat Boys’ “Wipeout” in the mid-80s. His play on poutine which is a Montreal speciality which has fries topped with gravy and melted cheese curds got the house rolling. The one running joke he maintained, almost to fault, was about parenting when his mom told him as a young boy not to open the door for anyone, even when his grandmother and father showed up. The quip was innocent but candescently funny because it provided a point of view all members of the audience could identify with making Crawford’s delivery the most successful at this particular gala.
The Late Night Gala Of A Million Opinions, hosted by Lewis Black, didn’t get as political or definitive as the lead comic would have liked but having never seen his plight live on stage, Black’s popularity reflects now in a more understood way. For a man of 62 (as he pointed out), his vigor and anger on certain subjects was palpable. The surprise was in his ability not to blow a gasket. Black’s first ideas centered around the idea of his generation failing miserably in terms of progress and infrastructure but functionally admitted that, if they legalized pot, everyone would forget about it. People in the States back in the day within the enforcement community made the push banning pot, according to Black, that paved the way for heroin. He comments that, in terms of pre-determined addictions, “so do pretzels…especially the honey mustard”.
The biggest surprise in tendency of this specific gala was Derek Edwards, a soft-spoken Canadian who more than brings to mind the Emo Philips of today, if he reverted to a meek older man. Imagine Bill Nighy smaller and acting like a pussycat and you get the gist. Edwards spoke about driving into Montreal (making his ideas in many ways the most localized) calling getting off the freeway “an agenda of friends” into “a wall of stink”. His voice sounded like almost crying which added to the persona especially when he speaks of finding “poutine in a can” which used the reference to infinite use since Lavell Crawford introduced the American perception of an Montreal original dish at the Cheech & Chong Gala. Edwards again understands the perception that, if one doesn’t go full blue, the reverse works successfully in a similar fashion without having to worry about the censors.
Kathleen Madigan, who ensured Lewis Black’s love by moving and talking about issues in the moment offered her vote of “no hope” when approached with Black’s environmental introduction that fixing the economy does not compare to being “up to our dicks in dead polar bears”. Her continuing cynicism of America within her set including the idea that the Chinese will show up at our doors one day saying “you go home” and an anecdote about Greenpeace approaching her and Black on a tour stop in Vancouver (while she was smoking a cigarette and eating a hot dog), shows her skewed but essentially dark view of the world.
After a misstep much like the previous night at Ste. Catherine, Paul F. Tompkins‘ interlude here involving cake versus pie purely missed the mark and was lightly but specifically criticized by emcee Black. Following this train wreck of sorts, Mike Wilmot approached the plate using his intro as a “raging alcohlolic” to good use. The initial idea of his 8-foot wife who beats him up moved into a more understandable progression on campers and Canadians revolving the idea of retreating “into the woods”. He relates that the definition of the phrase means “going to drink” but says he feels bad for “those poor trees”.
Like Edwards from a different side, the best relateable subjects of comedy come in the relativity of simple objects. Wilmot dictates that you know a place by its sandwiches, specifically identifying Schwartz’s locally [which was sampled a few days prior (seen above)] as a identifier of Montreal’s intention in opening its arms. The reference Wilmot gives for Toronto is that they “are too busy for sandwiches” while the Chinese, in a psychological dig, “have no sandwiches” but rather “they have dumplings” which he says are “sneaky” adding that he once found a small bird beak inside one. Wilmot is effective and pinpoint in his actions which makes his slightly paradoxical set both edgy and funny.
Lewis Black, unlike other gala hosts made a distinct point after each set to interact with his peers, making them think on their feet which some like Wilmot, Madigan and Edwards (though he looked a little nervous) could handle. His final point with Dom Irrera, who most dictated in his comedic progression that he liked to drink and that in his older age he liked “goat headed girls” as long as you “clip the tail”, showed a personal interaction at the outset with Black that gave a warm ending to the proceedings.
The late night in the dark recesses of a candlelight club brought Dance Animal. a variety show of sorts that if amped-up might have ideals in the Vegas market, The French language mainstay of show with bits of English definitely gave it a more European flavor. While some idealization seemed amateurish, the vaudeville integration of the performers at times played well. The Spiderman homage resonated a bit weird as did the “Sheep Tease” but it played within the structure finally when the Celine Dion/Olivia Newton John lead dancer, advancing in tandem ahead of the pack, took charge of the vision in the latter part of the show with a new energy. Despite a mediocre and literal visual translation interpretation of Coldplay’s “Vida”, the most effective abstract angle of the performance was an almost Shakespearean effigy of “Roscochi” about the downfall of a suitor at the hands of a King’s gun. While clearly played in jest, the darkness of piece reigned which gave it an edge missing clearly from the rest of the show. The burnt red conclusion of vision on “Jai-Ho” from “Slumdog Millionaire” highlighted the use of lighting and form dancing which, in any music medium, gives an altered illusion of life which is what people want to see. The idea of “Dance Animal” also purveys to the open workshop nature of Montreal which becomes more and more clear.
Bringing the texture more urban, “The Best Of Uptown Comics” at Club Soda moved the running style to a more balanced intensity, with parenting and sex befitting the late night crowd.
Nick Cannon, renown for his diversity as well as his recent marriage to pop diva Mariah Carey, wasted no time finessing into ideas of life within the spotlight. The angle truly has not gone to his head interrelating with the audience his understanding the precarious nature (in general) of his said situation. The timeliness of a Kanye West joke about him “not being invited” to his wedding was prepped as a punch line to a Jay-Z/Beyonce reference which hit extremely close to the mark. Again mirroring this edgy structure, Cannon allows the idea of kids with Carey making reference that he now has a niece named “Juicy” and talks about Brad Pitt having a “darky wizard beard”.
Deon Cole next ruled the roost as his position as writer for Conan O’Brien suggests. His idealism worked the edge between blue and practical. His rendition of Barack Obama introducing the new jams on a radio station worked inspired while holding a paper in his hand, he seemed (or was just playing that way), to introduce new material giving the seque “Let’s hear it for the ladies!” if it didn’t work to the great chagrin of the crowd. His reference to a black Starbucks (“make mine a Precious”) and his ode to natural breasts (“propeller titties”) hit directly on the mark with the widely receptive audience.
Mrs. Pat in progression next offered an antecedent showing the element of heavier women but ingratiating it with not taking any lip. Her perceptions including the admission that her panties sometimes are “folded like the flag” and that it pisses her off being called “Captain of the Fat Chicks”, showed her distinct element of timing.
The All Star Gala closed the proceedings with an array of different perceptions not necessarily connected in a certain order despite a lateness of register.
Harland Williams, known in the past for some of his Disney movie interludes including one where he farts in a space suit, sported the trucker mustache motif while still keeping his act one of a blend between physical and mental prowess. His comedy, still decidely American-based, used “Barack” as a comparison to a velociraptor mating call prancing around the stage in mock-attack form. While his “Goonies” film reference seemed to make an impact (surprisingly!) it was a sex shower dance (in ode to Montreal’s small showers) that ran the gamut making funny while the blue peeked through the cracks.
John Pinette offered the other bright All-Star light pummeling the audience intense like Lewis Black’s distant nephew who forgot his politics and just loves thinking about food. Pinette has been on the circuit for a while (like most) but understands interweaving stories for his audience so the punchline can be saved for 20 minutes down the line testing the listening curve. From his ideas of salad (“Arugula…what is that shit?”) to additives (“Bullets are gluten free”), he understands the thin line between love and hate. However it was the Montreal tinge encumbent in his “Beaver Tails” story that rocked the crowd using the idea of skating to the middle of an ice lake to get a fried dough concoction but smashing into the Ottawa family’s stand when he is unable to stop. His later reference about a trip to Jamaica as he is being pulled on a banana boat (a raft pulled by a motorboat) reaches its pinnacle as in a sharp turn he is thrown off and lands on the same Ottawa family on another raft. Pinette is definitely not subtle but his comedy is impactful.
Just For Laughs, both as a festival and a comedic mecca, uses its ideology of mixing up the brands to create a community of peers that understands that only experience begets new material. While agents and managers swirl the Montreal Hyatt Regency where many of the industry scans for the next big thing, the key is getting the minds together to find the new breakout or simply encourage the exchange of ideas…which is ultimately the key to any great art.
The angle of NBC this year is reinvention. With the introduction of Jay Leno, the network is trying to change the landscape but this path sometimes peppered with obstacles. Kinks still need to be worked out as the process continues.
Exec Sessions – NBC President Angela Bromstad With the impact of Jay’s moving to 10pm, Conan’s beginnings on “The Tonight Show” and the letting go of “Medium”, the tension in the room was palpable as the focus of the progression of the network continued. Talk first turned to “Heroes” and the specificity of Brian Fuller’s quick hire and then his departure. Bromstad indicates that Fuller was simply brought in to put the series back on track. When that was done, he turned his focus back to development which is their deal with him anyway.
Exec Ben Silverman’s departure Bromstad said was always part of “his” plan which drew some unintentional laughter which she seemed annoyingly puzzled at by saying that he wasn’t planning on being there for a long time anyway. In regards to Leno, she kept pushing off her perception but says that she hopes for a 5 cumulative rating which by structure is a little misleading. She confirmed that they be producing 6 “Weekend Update” specials this year and also admits that this fall with be the true test of Conan’s staying power as “The Tonight Show” host. There seems to be a little bit of tension in the transition as evidenced by an earlier marketing ploy dubbing him the new “King Of Late Night” which they agree was a little premature. They seem much more reserved now in terms of outlook.
Bromstad also speaks of the new series “Day One” which unlike “Heroes” tends to look at more narrow drama. However, any possibility of a second season will obviously hinge on its success in the first.
Another ambitious series: “Kings” (since canceled) was discussed as an experiment. Bromstad said it was an “amazingly big swing” and was “a great production”. However, in a crowded marketplace where you have to sell something, she says that it was ultimately not the right sell. She even admits that when they first developed it with Susan Lancaster, they thought it was a bit too highbrow.
In terms of the new series “Community”, it has been placed to premiere after “The Office” at 9pm which is why the “SNL Update” got the 8pm time slot. In response furthermore to “Southland” which is entering its sophomore season, Bromstad emphasized that the show needs to be more focused, especially on the cop angle of the story coming together.
“Medium” is another angle addressed (in that CBS picked it up after NBC declined to renew it). She says that they were thinking of picking it up until the very end. On an up note, she says that the new season of “Chuck”, which was saved despite lower ratings than expected, is on a great track creatively.
Community This new comedy follows a guy who basically scams his way into a job at a community college as teacher but finds out that he something to give to his students. Dan Harmon, the creator of the show, got the idea from actually going to a community college in Glendale when he was 32. He went to do it with his girlfriend at the time so they could do something together other than sex. His interaction with the different people there is what gave him the idea and jokes that it has the musings of something like “A Charlie Brown Christmas” He says that community colleges to him are funny but sardonically adds that he also thinks farts are funny.
Joel McHale, who stars as the would-be embodiment of Dan, says that he will continue to do “The Soup” on E! but warns jokingly that it will take a lot of uppers and downers to maintain his productivity. He admits that he can’t look at clips at that show the way he used to. He looks over at Chevy Chase (who makes his first venture into television here) and admits that the legendary comedian is “more god than man”.
Chevy, for his part, gives the advice back that “if you are going blind, then you are doing it right” which is a very sinister but subtle quip showing he still has it. He effuses in his Griswold way apologizing for the fact that he is a comedian. Seriously, he admits that right now films are not as good as TV. He, for one, never thought he would be in a situation comedy but the great writing hooked him. The reality he admits is that he doesn’t improvise a lot with his style of comedy. However, he also says, in good natured, ironic, self imposed ignorance on his part that he knows nothing about pop culture from 20 years ago until now.
Trauma By comparison, this view into the emergency response angles of the first response units comes off more “Die Hard” than “ER” simply by the aspect of its teaser footage. There seem to be too many explosions but not enough character traits. This however might only be sizzle and part of the initial pilot run to get viewers interested but, if they have to keep up that level of production value (especially with the bigger chopper explosion that ends the teaser), then the show might become quite expensive.
Exec producer Peter Berg says that the key with shows like this is always to up the ante. He makes the point that medical dramas will always be relevant, saying also that his personal experience on “Chicago Hope” as an actor was a great one. His fellow exec producer Dario Scardapane follows this up emphasizing Peter’s point that the legacy of a medical show lies in the characters. Some of the episodes will revolve around MCIs (which are Mass Casuality Incidents). Dario points to the fact that in the footage we saw, the pile up was such an event. The question he poses (which was my concern) is keeping up the production value which he hopes they can. This, however, is an obstacle from the start, ambitious but also a battle to be fought. The key is that with this show, you increase the pace because you are seeing the action 20 minutes before it hits the hospital doors. It is about working outside of the box although the specter of “ER” still looms large over many medical shows as to what can be done. How do you up the ante for the next generation of medical shows? Bigger is sometimes an option but that can quickly get out of control.
Dario mentions that they shut down the 280 Freeway for the pilot for five days, which is something you would do for a feature (and one that was most assuredly not cheap). The area explore with “Trauma” lies in the fact that “paramedicine” does what the doctors cannot. He says it takes a long time to get to this job but there is a burn out factor. People never step down but sometimes they are asked to leave because the pace and pressure become too much to handle.
Anastasia Griffith, who plays Nancy Carnahan, says that her character is the drug pusher of the clan. She went to medical school but she wants to work on the ground. She has a big heart and wants to connect to the individual which at times is very detrimental to her because it leaves her feeling very isolated in her personal life. She ends up self-medicating with sex.
Cliff Curtis, who plays Reuben Palchuck, angles to the endurance of a second archetype. His character, while being confidant, exudes a coldness in his personal life because he is serving an overall kind of ideology in the essence of service to humanity without judgment. The pilot, he says, serves a certain set up in that they go in like gangbusters on this certain event but a lot of the team dies which causes repercussions in the emotional and physical lives of the surviving members. Curtis says that the series is intense but if they can keep it grounded, it will be a great ride.
White Collar Building off a certain penchant in both “In Plain Sight” and “Breaking Bad” which made them so relevant, USA’s “White Collar” builds from two people who seem to have respect for each other and are more water than vinegar than they would like to relate despite some severe past incidents. It all comes down to an agenda. Like “48 Hrs”, one is a cop and one is a criminal who are working together towards a common goal. How it works is within a state of thought.
Jeff Eastin, the creator of the show, says ultimately the show is about these two guys and their interaction. Two aspects of the story hit him that were important as he was developing it. One, you don’t want one of the guys to look dumb and the other one smart. Tim DeKay’s character Peter Stokes, however, doesn’t want to show that his cards like that yet it shines through. These have to be guys you want to hang with. The key crux for them within the series is based in trust issues. Eastin also relates that when he talked to Tiffany Thiessen about her role as a wife, he told her to look at Abigail Adams (as the “John Adams” miniseries premiered to acclaim at the time they were developing this). Dihann Carroll also makes an appearance in half the episodes of season one as a recurring character called June who adds a delicious edge to the proceedings.
Matt Bomer, who plays Neal Caffrey, the erstwhile criminal serving a different agenda, says that his character is humanized by the fact that he comes from a quixotic place. Ultimately in the overall picture, he is searching for a girl Kate (a lost love) which dominates all his thoughts. The fact that the show is shot in NYC also gives the series, he believes, a distinct mood and tone, which is something that DeKay, who plays his nemesis Peter (who is on the right side of the law), echoes in sentiment citing a scene they shot with Dihann Caroll [on a roof] with the Empire State Building in the background. DeKay admits that Peter, even as a good guy loves a good con but he also likes to solve a good con which points to the fact that the character internally might enjoy working with this guy. But, as DeKay puts it regarding any criminal, “like any 4 year old, you have to hold their hand in the parking lot”.
Stargate Universe This telling attempts to reinvigorate the Stargate franchise by creating more of a “Star Trek” base with an almost “Lost In Space” theme. The selling point on a lot of this is bringing in Robert Carlyle who is mostly known as a film actor. More of these kinds of actors are entering this space because of the increasing production value and acceptance of television as an accepted form in terms of career path.
Robert Cooper, one of the exec producers who has shepherded “Stargate” through its many incarnations on TV, relates that he was a big fan of Joss Whedon’s “Firefly” which set the pace for the world of “Universe” in bringing in a visual style of say “The Shield” or “Friday Night Lights”. When conceiving this new series, they thought in paradox of terms to “SG1” and “Atlantis” in making it less referential. The angle that comes up quite new and fresh is the ability for some of the characters within this new structure to switch consciousness with people on Earth, which can be a “suspension of belief” deal breaker if it is not done right. The crux of the story of “Universe” is that there is not really good guys or bad guys, simply different agendas. Cooper also reveals that the forst episodes will examine different elements in terms of thematics like earth, wind, fire, etc.
Lou Diamond Phillips, who plays Colonel David Telford, says that when was approached, he saw that Robert Carlyle was attached to the property which raised the bar and Ming Na, whom he had known for years, was also involved as an actor. He says he always looks at new things as a life experience and thought this might be a different angle. He sees a series like “Stargate” as comfort food for the American public. Like any genre based show, it works within an unknown or, at least, partially alien setting. The angle with “Stargate” in his mind has iconic characters who are very real and relatable which negates the impact of the setting.
Robert Carlyle, who plays lead character Dr. Nicolas Rush, says that Robert and [co-creator] Brad [Wright] had contacted him around a year ago (September 2008). He was initially caught off guard by it and asked them if they, for sure, had the right guy. When he read the first script “Air” (which is the two hour pilot), he saw it as a challenge and it brought him to a place of enjoying science fiction more. He says that his character is a very dangerous man because, as an audience member, you are not sure what he actually is. He does some dodgy stuff which would probably make some of the other characters want to airlock him. The rub is that he is the one who knows how the technology works.
Alice This new miniseries from ScyFy comes almost in tandem with the feature version that Tim Burton is telling next spring. While that film is a more a telling of the traditional story, this version is more the neo-gothic portrayal using the urban city and casinos as a backdrop instead of the forest.
Nick Willing, who directed this fusion of worlds like his earlier “Tin Man”, said the key was to make the approach both funny and fresh but also with a strong visual flair. The base of the story is that the Mad Hatter is bringing over people from the real world to play at the Queen’s Casino in Wonderland. Like Pleasure Island, if you lose, the Queen gets to take your essence. The people of Wonderland can then drink it for a variety of intents including lust. The thought is that just as we have evolved in the modern world so has Wonderland. The question is what would it be like now as a real place but also how would it be relevant to us today?
Caterina Scorsone, who plays Alice, says that her reaction to the material in the way it was approached here was a bit more visceral. When you are growing up, in her words, you see the real world as not always logical. For her, the illogical here became part of the draw because the whimsy itself then isn’t as threatening. Beneath the surface though, for her, this “Alice” is a compelling love story even though right now it is heavily in the zeitgeist
Kathy Bates, who makes one of her first forays into the fantasy genre, plays the Queen Of Hearts which had always been a dream of hers. The key for her in terms of challenge was to have something psychologically compelling within the character but also to be able to perform without feeling that you have one leg tied to the floor. The key in understanding the Queen within the confines of this world is that she is fascinated by the ideals of feelings and emotions but is, in fact, terrified by her own.
Matt Frewer, who recently appeared in “Watchmen”, said he couldn’t turn down playing The White Knight who, according to the script, is “as crazy as a box of frogs”. The vision of the future as shown in this “Alice” is one where people are innoculated and tranquilized by gambling and the Queen Of Hearts’ nefarious ways. This, in many ways, he says, mirrors some of themes covered in “Max Headroom” in terms of turning large populations into blank canvasses.
Harry Dean Stanton, who plays the Caterpillar, describes this “Alice” as a well defined acid trip. This mirrors some of the production thought of legendary TV producer Robert Halmi who says that this world was mostly built because no locations like this exist. Hence most of it was against green screen in Vancouver. In the computer you can fly with flamingos over the Alps so it just becomes a question of vision.
Mercy This new medical series, which premieres September 23rd (8pm), follows the element of nurses in a less subversive way than say “Nurse Jackie”. Liz Heidens, the creator of the show, wanted to represent a real female friendship where the girls can be wild together. Nurses, as a rule, tend to pick up the pieces in the hospital but they also happen to be heroes and save lives, according to Heidens. For her, this felt like a way to depict real working women. They don’t have martinis in Manhattan…they drink beer in New Jersey. She also says that they will make sure to examine stories about people without health insurance. Her interest primarily lies more in characters that are wrong…and these women are still trying to figure out who they are. Women are usually played with kid gloves on TV and she wanted to change that.
Michelle Trachenberg, who plays Chloe, relates her decision in connecting to the show saying that once when she was in the hospital, the first person to hold her hand was male nurse who had a tattoo of a unicorn on his arm. He did her IV and made sure the ice pack was cold enough. That really made her feel safe. Chloe, for her, is an adult. The character went through nursing school and has the credentials. But, according to her, unlike her in real life, Chloe is shy and quiet. The challenge for her is in keeping it realistic. In her perspective, so many many women are scared by the situation they are in. Chloe looks to the other girls in the hospital (specifically Jamie and Taylor) to support her.
Taylor Schilling, who plays Veronica, says that in researching for this role, it became clear to her that nurses are the backbone of our hospital system. She was interested by this character in that Veronica had just returned from an uncontrolled environment (Iraq). It made her feel like a streetfighter. This world she has come back to is corporate and might feel a little contrived which makes this character almost like a bull in a china shop. In her mind, it is usually the most self protected people who are the most vulberable.
Jamie Lee Kirschner, who plays Sonya, says that her character is a hard worker who gets the job done. Playing the “brown” girl, for her, highlights that. Nurses, in her estimation, are the ones that deal with you freaking out. Her character is still searching for identity but maintaining her focus.
Lloyd Braun, one of the exec producers along with Gail Berman, believes that the big influx of medical shows is just coincidence. He relates that when he was at ABC, and they first were discussing Grey’s Anatomy, the thought was “not another medical show” since there were three other pilots vying for the slot. Every show was tonally different. Here he thought “Mercy” worked the same as well as did “Anatomy”. The key was connecting these people to this moment in time.
Exec Sessions – Rick Ludwin Before Jay Leno came out to discuss his new 10pm show, late night executive Ludwin discussed basic facts to optimize the time with Jay. His points initialized with the thought that 10pm is still prime time. Jay’s show will be on without fail for 52 weeks as a judging basis and that NBC won’t be putting it on a yardstick. Ludwin says that they did three separate studies which said that the audience would be looking forward to this kind of comedy as an alternative at 10pm, specifically in the fact that it leads into the late local news. He adds that music will be a factor in the new show but only twice a week. Comedy, of course, is the “X” factor. There will be “pretty actors” but Ludwin says that it will be more than just talk. In terms of relationships and parallels of booking with “The Tonight Show”, he says that there is a good working relationship. Ludwin stresses that this will be an “important show” but also also makes the point that they are not disappointed in Conan at all. The ratings, of course, is how they will keep score.
They will also be incorporating more advertising/product placement in Leno’s show with Lexus being the initial participant. He defends this thought saying this kind of interaction is in the DNA of television going back to the 50s. Ludwin, for his own part, says that he loves live commercials and would be shocked if the audience liked Jay and didn’t like these commercials.
The Jay Leno Show The big dog came into the house looking svelt, very rested and ready for anything. The first elements out of his mouth was, of course, his impressions on the news of the past months since he has been off the air. For example to the Michael Jackson death and the resignation of Sarah Palin, he says that they go “hand in hand” but that “the Palin thing cheered me up”.
Returning to TV like this was like training for him. For the new show, he got in shape. When he first started “The Tonight Show”, he said that everyone said they hated him (since he was taking over for the great Johnny Carson). For him, comedy is specific because it plays to a certain audience. Leno says he grew up in the era of Jack Benny, Johnny Carson and Bill Cosby. Politics are always in play as well as everything else across the board.
Leno talks about the physical representation of his new show. He finds the new set interesting and says that it is a lot bigger. He has a whole desk but he stresses that this new show will not be a talk or variety format. For example, he has spoken to Brian Williams about doing a segment about pieces that are not good enough for The Nightly News. DL Hughley, by contrast, will be reporting on politics. Rachel Harris (who was just in “The Hangover”) will also be doing some segments.
Leno also progressed into the sardonic considering all the controversy of the past two years which he could really never speak about before. He thinks that he hasn’t changed a whole lot. He is still married to the same woman and drives the same car. His nugget of advice relates to his acronym for “NBC”: Never Believe your Contract”.
He will also have some new cool segments which he could never have done on “The Tonight Show”. Leno relates that one of his favorite TV shows is “Top Gear”. As a result, he built a race track outside the studio. He had these fast electric cars built to race. He says Tom Cruise actually asked if he could get in early and practice.
For him, he thinks 10pm is the new 11:30. The kids in their 20s and 30s don’t stay up as late as they used to (in his perspective). Television, for him, now needs to be about immediacy. His example is that “The Today Show” got the airliner as it was landing in the Hudson. Does he expect to beat CSI? No. But he will catch them in the reruns.
Leno also slips that Kevin Eubanks came up with a new theme song. His Jay Show will start in as quickly as ten seconds. His quip is that it is “good food at sensible prices”. He comments on musical guests saying that it will get you a good studio audience but sometimes not a great TV audience. He will not have three guests. He will have one…maybe two, and then the racetrack. He also reminds everyone that, with “The Tonight Show” when he came in, it was number one and when he left it was number one. “The Jay Leno Show” in his estimation will have something for everyone.
He offers a peak at his competitors saying that there are good scripted dramas out there (he specifically highlights “Burn Notice”) but says also that he is very proud of his writers saying he has “the top five guys in the guild”.
When asked about his feeling about NBC and if he thinks he is coming into save them, he responds: “The networks are on their own. Screw them. There are things I like about it. There are things I don’t like about it”. He admits towards the end of his run, he was getting complacent at “The Tonight Show”. He adds that though, that if this new show goes down in flames, “we’ll be laughing all the way down”.
He unashamedly says that his confidence (exuded here) comes from the point now that he is rich. He doesn’t need to do this. He wants to. He also wants to make the point that there is no tension between Conan and him. He says that “when you play, this is how you play”. He admits that there will probably be booking wars between them. Jay then makes a General Motors reference saying that different engines make a difference. His point: “It is a game…and you play to win.”
He makes reference to David Letterman in terms of how he had a show on the same network and moved away. He says that one thing that kills people in Hollywood is bitterness. Leno says he “got it” when they wanted to take him off “The Tonight Show” when it was still number one and he admits that “there is only so much pie you can eat”. In all seriousness, he did say he had no desire to ever go to ABC because that, in effect, would create that “bitterness” which he says is so destructive.
NBC TCA Party With the Jay pinnacle ending the day, the party headed outside to the main garden area behind the Langham where the food smelled great and the open air concept truly encouraged interaction.
After proceeding to the Patron Bar, which held everything in account (especially the new coffee version), the life of the party spread out. Across the way there was a Dutch Bar set up with chocolate and golden lagers of exquisite taste. A compatriot of mine and I proceeded over to talk to Jay with the beer girl in tow before I was able to relate to them that, in fact, Jay does not drink. After conversing briefly with Hayden Pantierre (there to support “Heroes”), the day faded into night as a content looking Chevy Chase watched over the grounds with food in hand.
After failing to light up with Robert Carlyle near the beer bar, the late conversation proceeded with the creators of “Stargate Universe”, Brad and Robert, while a couple of the cast members and I did shots of whiskey. The relation of the reboot of this series stuck very clearly in my mind with the emphasis that in re-angling the franchise and making it seen through the eyes of a civilian gives it an almost mythic quality. Although I had not seen the pilot, the casting of Robert Carlyle was genius in that he (like Tim Roth) has so much to bring to this game if they let him go and roar through the screen. It has the possibility to transcend a genre and bridge certain gaps. This critic holds high hopes for the show as they disappear into the night, heading to Vancouver in the morning to begin shooting anew.
NBC as a network has been awash with controversy in the past year but also takes chances. In actuality, its cable siblings are doing some of the best work seen on television in years, specifically USA with “Burn Notice” especially but also with “Royal Pains”, “In Plain Sight” and now “White Collar” in the mix. There just seems to be a never-ending stream of good material from that specific net. Of course though, times change fast. ScyFy is also doing well with “Warehouse 13” opening to good numbers and “Caprica” on the way along with the aforementioned “Stargate: Universe”. NBC proper is the only one not entirely surefooted. While shows like “Chuck” and “Heroes” show the possibilities at times of good writing, the overemphasis on new medical shows and an erstwhile non-studio sitcom might have trouble gaining traction along with the loss of the 10pm hour.
The biggest gamble of course is “The Jay Leno Show” which has no guarantee to work despite good pedigree. It is the move that everyone is watching. It simply becomes a wait and see game.