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Degrees Of Balance: The 2019 Showtime, CW & Pop TCA Winter Press Tour

Balancing from the CBS and CBS All Access TCA Day, Showtime, CW and, by extension, POP all possess a degree of creative landscape on the cultural plain. Each has its own texture with a sense of identity, yet never stepping too far out of line thereby alienating viewers. Among all networks, it is this texture of focus that undeniably balances the shows

Black Monday [Showtime] Returning to the network that made “House Of Lies”, Don Cheadle takes on the 80s with aplomb with an undeniable texture of Wall Street from the other side. Cheadle explains: “Moe would probably be Marty’s unhinged id. He doesn’t have a governor’s switch in the same way [as that character]. [With this show] it is trying to make a magic trick work on top of a roller coaster. It is the clothes and the hair and the excess of the 80s. [And] Moe has no ballast. There is no family that is tethering him. He is more a live wire in that way. It is constantly finding ‘him’ and seeing who ‘he’ is.” Jordan Cahan, one of the showrunners who also worked on the Christian Slater FOX show “Breaking In” explains: “This show has a secret code…words that we find abhorrent now. So we had to be very careful who we allowed to say those words. The tricky thing for us…just because it is cable…do we go to a certain place?” Cheadle continues reminiscing about what 1987 was like for him: “There were more yeses than there were nos. [In] 1987 I had just got out of school. I was living in North Hollywood. I was running around trying to get work. [A group of us] we would bum rush these auditions together. I never really started think I was good. It took many years until I believed that I could calm down [with that pursuit].” In translating that energy into the times that Moe lives in: “One of the things that we were cognizant about was having this sort of rag tag group of traders who are the Bad News Bears…the misfits.”

City On A Hill [Showtime] This throwback element to 1990s Boston involving a corrupt but determined FBI agent, Jackie, played with grizzle by Kevin Bacon, harks back to his previous work like “Mystic River” and “Sleepers”. Bacon discusses the connection: “I wasn’t really comparing the two. But with ‘City On A Hill’, it immediately had Jackie’s voice…that is the one I heard. It is just this world of 90s cops and robbers. [For me] there was nothing on television that quite felt like this.” In terms of wanting to commit to this show after doing “The Following” at Fox: “When you go into this situation with time involved…it is interesting here because the characters [are going] home. They are outside of [their] world. [In the pilot] we have a scene where the D.A. Ward (played by Aldis Hodge) and I are sitting in a window. Usually when the weather is that bad, you call it. [And when] your face gets that cold, you start to slur your words. Unfortunately the mustache (laughing) doesn’t keep it warm. That was the last scene of the pilot so I wasn’t sure if I needed the mustache [anymore].” (smiling) But in terms of what Bacon wants in terms of a challenge: “I want something new to explore. With ‘The Following”, it was all about that internalized type of character who has secrets. Jackie [by comparison] just doesn’t shut up. It is this kind of verbosity he has,”

Desus & Mero [Showtime] This new late night show optimizing the podcast and VICE phenom of Desus Nice & The Kid Mero just keys into its own sort of energy which can only be experienced live on the show, considering how quickly the panel progressed. Desus relays that he and Mero “actually met in high school in summer school…because they had air conditioning.” Mero explain the possibilities of how they approach what they do: “No one is really going on Twitter and reading policy [on politics]. We want to show people in their natural element. The vernacular we bring to it pushes with hip hop. This is authentic. It is not factory made.”

Jane The Virgin [CW] The trajectory of this show has allowed Gina Rodriguez to transform while still maintaining a grounded nature within the story. Speaking for the final season, just days before her new movie “Miss Bala” opens, the mood is somber as the show’s production is coming to an end. Jennie Snyder Urman, the show runner and writer, speaks to the show’s evolution: “We would work really hard each year on a different part of the love triangle. A writer once told me that a telenovela is a pornography of emotion. We go through all the feels in the last season unfortunately. [But] we have shown that we will go to unexpected places.” Rodriguez balances this thought saying: “I have been blessed enough to do work in the space that Jennie has created. [And] I have been able to see where I can use my creativity. There is so much I have learned on ‘Jane’.” Urban does tease the next iteration of Jane with a new play on the story: “The spin off is a conceit since it is novels that Jane will write in the future.”

In The Dark Using the essence of the blind to propel a story is an exercise in identity, especially when the teen in question is rebellious. Like certain CW shows before, this drama/comedy approaches the subject with humor but it needed to be based in fact. Lori Bernson, who consulted on “In The Dark” actually walked onto the stage with her guide dog to practically show the perceptions that the dogs have which is key to the story. Bernson lost her sight at a young age but defers on the difference of being born blind: “The difference is losing your mannerisms after you lose vision. It is so conditioned in you to do those things. Often times you don’t have as much contact. People say that I am looking right at them. The greatest thing though is when somebody moves and they don’t tell me. The difference of not seeing ever is that you don’t know anything different.” Perry Mattfield, who stars as the blind Murphy, explains that “Murphy’s blindness is not the only aspect I deferred from Murphy. Obviously I did realize how much responsibility there was for this role. I went to Lori’s house and I was watching her to do her thing. When she is watching TV, she will still look down to the remote first.”

Roswell, New Mexico [CW] This reboot examines the textures of the lost nights and alien interactions for a whole new generation. The key is mixing up the performances but also the story archs in a meaningful way. Jeanine Mason, who won Season 5 of “So You Think You Can Dance” takes on the role of Liz Ortecho. She explains her approach: “I am a performer. We all are. I grew up admiring the showman. [But] existing as a Latin X lead on a network television show is a rarity. That is what I love about being in 2018…tbe able to play woman who is ignited….who is a fighter” Julie Prec, who serves as one of the show runners talks about filming the show in the desert near Santa Fe: “The elements in general are so unpredictable. We sometimes can’t get the lights higher than 10 feet because of the wind.”

Flack [Pop] This new series from the cable label that brought viewers “Schitt’s Creek” examines the publicity side of the business. Anna Paquin plays Robyn who runs a PR crisis management firm who has trouble maintaining sanity in her personal life. Paquin explains: “Was it complicated? The only major rewrites happen around location.” But in a more production based tone as she developed this with her husband Stephen Moyer as well: “Speaking for myself, we are not really looking for a specific genre or medium but [instead what] connects and is smart. The big lesson is that you really need to believe in what you are doing because you will be doing it for a really long time.” Moyer jumps in on finding the right material: “[When it was] first brought it to us, it was set in England. You read so much stuff and the [good ones] are rare.” In terms of her acting which also includes Sophie Okonedo, Paquin explains her work: “I use the word ‘coven’ a lot. I mean that in the best possible way. [For me] there was a sisterhood [on set] that was inclusive and protective.”

By Tim Wassberg

Network Equation & Special Challenges: The TCA CBS/CW/Showtime Summer 2013 Press Tour – Feature

Equating the ideas of major networks as well as their cable spinoffs and genre casings poses special challenges as creating edgy fare comes with its own contrivances about how to make things but economically and creatively viable. CBS though seems up to the task.

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The Arsenio Hall Show”, which brings back the once stalwart cool man of late night who abruptly fell off the scene, comes with an interesting delight: how to make this older man who epitomized the 90s into the fold two decades later. He told us two years ago at a cable function in a small group that he was planning this. What is interesting is that he is doing it with the same people as before and by extension the same company with a couple extras. Arsenio himself notes the change in times with the technology saying “Debbie Gibson [back in the day] sent me a FAX that she wanted to sing on my show. That was my text”. Another example he gives is “I remember Barbara Streisand calling me with a Bill Clinton question. Now she can tweet”. Sounding a little too much in the play, he speaks that “with a joke, you are able to Google now”. One of the things that he thinks gave him the confidence to return to this specific fray was his win on “Celebrity Apprentice” because “I have been Number Two at anything I have ever done” so “it was nice to win”. The aspect that also promoted it was the enticement of his son. He relates that he left the late night show he had at the top of his game but it was to spend more time raising his son. He explains “I needed balance in my life” and “the compliment from me to Paramount was that they don’t want you on the air if you know you’re going” which was the reason for the show’s abrupt end. Now that his son is older, when the finale of “Apprentice” came along, his son told him “we could win it!” This showed to him that his son had some investment in what he was doing. Arsenio was known in breaking music acts back in the day but the actuality is that “the stats point that music doesn’t get as good numbers as the talk”. He points that someone who has been supportive is Jay Leno, whom he says many people think as combative but he explains that this is true only when they are in direct competition with him. Jay, Arsenio explains, just wants to win, making the comparison that “Ali & Frazier didn’t get along initially”. His end game is that “at the end of the day, I am a stand up comic and I am there to get laughs” but “I just need to be funny in the way that I do it”.

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The Good Wife”, continuing its much ballyhooed run on CBS, recently received a watercooler boost with the campaigning of the infamous Anthony Weiner back into the New York mayoral race. Robert King, who exec produces the show with his wife Michelle, says that “there is a certain demand in telling the story” but “sometimes the audience is [only] inches ahead of us [and] sometimes yards ahead of us”. In comparison to the real life reflections with the recent Weiner situation, he says “we are the happiest people since we have so much to write about” saying “the Weiner thing hit it right on the head” though “Julianna [Maguiles] creates a good temperature on set”.

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Mom”, a new series starring ever blonde Anna Faris and Alison Janney, seems like an interesting mix especially with its addiction background of the story thrown in the comedy mix. After having her baby with husband Chris Pratt (from “Parks & Recreation”), Faris says “I wasn’t ready to get back to work” but he read it and pushed her to do it. Of her character, Faris admits “She’s so dimensional and a mess…basically like me”. Addressing her longevity in the business and getting that first job, she explains “I slowly came to realize that getting your first job is hard but not as hard as the second one” because “you have to peddle yourself around town”. At this point in her career, she says “there is a difference in that you graduate as a woman into a different element in your 30s”. Asked to what her mom might think of her portrayal on-screen in this series, Faris jokes that “my mom is a prude but half the time she doesn’t know what the vocabulary means” adding that “she says she’s never seen a condom”. Chuck Lorre, who continues to build his empire here after the successes of “Two &A Half Men”, “Big Bang Theory” and recently “Mike & Molly”, concludes with the admission that “I once asked Norman Lear what he did [with all his shows] and he said you go where the fire is burning the brightest and where you are most needed”.

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Showtime swoops with interest into the battle with the return of “Homeland” and the texture of how you change up the show with two red hot Emmy winners on the roll. Claire Danes, whose lead character is always on the verge of exploding, says that “Carrie is always sitting on her own personal ticking bomb” adding that “it is an impossible dilemma”. In terms of the recent progression, she continues that Carrie “is not great on the meds and she is even worse off them” posing that “it is pretty bleak”. When asked about her recent quotes about having trouble finding work after her lauded performance as “Temple Gradin” for HBO before she started “Homeland”, she explains that after the former, “I think I emerged energized and emboldened” and “I wanted a similar type of challenge” but “there wasn’t any roles like that” adding that “I didn’t have patience for the regular old stuff”. She says that she guesses “there was a dirth of material in general at that moment” but, for her, “to do a job for the sake of it is a really bad idea”. She postulates that ”we are freelance, dare I say, artists”. Despite the bent of this series, she says “I have not become a political creature” though, for this season, “I have returned to my bipolar books” admitting “they are right near the bed” because “it is our job to interpret the heavy lifting the writers do”. Damian Lewis, for his part as Brody, is not seen for the first two episodes of the new season, which is unusual for the most recent Emmy winning Best Actor – Drama, but he says “it is a function of the story that we have to see Brody”. He explains with a little chicanery that “he disappeared into a tunnel system” because “he is the most wanted criminal in the world so he has to lay low”. Asked whether he sees his character’s bleak end coming in droves, he jokes that “these guys [the creators] have been trying to kill me since Episode One”.

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Masters Of Sex” continues the predilection with an piercing view into taboo and science in the late 40s with a kind of voyeurism that apparently pushes the boundary. Michael Sheen, who plays the lead character Bill who is studying the science of human sexuality in a conservative time, says that, with the series, it is about seeing the time as “prudish” but more about seeing it as a journey about “a sense of control in this man’s life” since “he is a mystery to himself”. The idea for him of this man is that “he has a locked-down desire to keep control”. In comparing the sense of sexuality to our perception of sex today, he explains “the same problem of intimacy applies now”. The key is “with the sexuality of the piece, it has to be realistic” but “your have to find a way to set the tone with all the right things” adding that “you discover through experimentation”. In terms of his relationship with his study partner Jane (played by Lizzy Caplan), he says “you find your way with the chemistry” because “the humor comes out of the situation” because (let’s face it), “it is interesting how sex is done on-screen” but “there is an awkwardness”. From his perspective, in “Masters Of Sex”, “there are a lot risks, not just the nudity”. What he likes about this character and the challenge is that “in the multiple episodic format, you can get to the complexity of a novel”. The disconnect for Bill, he says, is that “he tries to keep sex and attraction separate”. As for his view on sex after doing the series, he says “I found myself talking about relationships more” because “the more you are doing [or watching] a show about sex, you are finding more how you connect with human beings”. The take-away is that “sex is a conduit for any area you feel shame about”.

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Lizzy Caplan, from her point of view playing a period woman after she had played many outspoken modern women, says “when you are telling a story in present day, you can [show the modern woman] with clothes and a strategically placed tattoo”. With all the sex and nudity floating throughout the series, she says “some of the situations were ridiculous but accurate” but “there are moments of levity”. She says “the idea of Jane is that every step of the way she is a contradiction” using the comparisons that “she is a secretary but she is also a partner” and that “she is sexually adventurous but she is a mother of two” and most specifically “she becomes close with Liddy [Bill’s wife] but she is also the other woman”. What throws her is that people were told different underlying falsehoods about sex (like masturbation) and, as she puts it, “you just needed to tell people that what you were doing was normal but people weren’t doing that…and that is some bullshit!”

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CW closes out with the consideration of “The Tomorrow People” which is based upon a series that Greg Berlanti (who also produces the CW’s “Arrow”) saw as a kid. He speaks of it with glee saying “Julie [Line, the exec producer] and I have been talking about this show since we were in college” adding that “the originals played in reruns on Nickelodeon”. Mark Pellegrino, recently of “Lost” as Jacob, returns to genre here with a multi-facade character teasing that “I don’t consider myself the hero of the story right now” but explaining that “I am protecting the human race and you have to do dirty things”.

The triumvirate in CBS, Showtime & CW continues to show that the separation of brand and knowing the angle at which to engage the audience is decidedly important in facilitating bigger and bigger ratings.

IR Television Review: Human Falacies & Supernatural Idiosyncracies – Returning Television Shows – Spring 2012

The intention of human fallacies in unwittingly non-normal situations whether it is tracking drug smugglers, taking down a government agency or trying to exist as a supernatural create in a world of human brings its own set of idiosyncrasies which allows the participants to react in a variety of ways but most necessarily in the normality of who they are.

Justified [FX] Adjusting to a life without a murdering matriarch consumes itself to the will of Yankees invading the plot in the smiling goodness of Neal McDonough, Now granted Raylan (the always cool Timothy Olyphant) is still pervading his sense of Southern law, but, at some point, the women in his life get sick of it. His former flame returned to darkness in the intent of her ex, Boyd Crowder, who has found his way to enlightenment through a more demonstrative criminal method. The realization of Raylan, especially when he gets into another shootout in a hotel, seems to prove that he doesn’t have what is needed to be “father” material. Enter Carla Gugino (always a welcome sight) as a Director in the Marshall service who gives Raylan a run for his money. In terms of her resurrection in terms of intermingling with Raylan’s heart, only time will tell. This bodes darkly, especially with a treacherous and involved runner of organized crime who seems the figure to beat, personified in the visage of Mykelti Williamson who brought tenderness as “Bubba” in “Forrest Gump” but hits the intended notes of intelligence and intimidation which has not quite yet come to fruition.

Nikita [CW] Involving the notion of psychology into the reasoning behind Nikita’s actions to take down Division, the source of all her strength and death, becomes more dastardly when the woman responsible for recovering her from her initial life as a junkie becomes one of the masterminds behind the company that caused her so much grief. Many of the plot developments begin to take on double negatives especially with a girl Nikita brought back from the brink now the focus of an internal hit squad. Percy, right now the most engaging of the villains (after getting out of his box), mingles a turn of loyalties with the wantonness of Nikita to try to balance both sides of the equation but situations, despite her best efforts,  are likely to explode on cue.

Royal Pains [USA] HankMed has truly got into a normal functioning matter-of-course with Boris’ illness somewhat under control and the boys’ dad taking responsibility for his earlier sins. The more interesting structure of this season, by extension, is Evan’s relationship with his girlfriend-now-fiancee. The class structure progression of this ideal is something that some people might relate to if one has experienced The Hamptons because the possibility of all is right around the corner and it dexterously keeps you on your toes. Hank’s pressing perception also lies in the fact that Jill, his past and present girlfriend, is leaving to do her part in Uruguay and that his one true friend on the peninsula, a pro golfer named Jack [played with aplomb abandon by Tom Cavanagh], is suffering from a manageable but deadly progression of lupus and just wants to joke it away. Divya is dealing with class structure pressures from the opposite direction in that she has to pay back her part for bailing on her Hindu wedding. All within, the series is attacking more domestic issues which give it a sense of depth without the ideal that everything in these people’s lives will collapse at any given moment.

Being Human [SyFy] The predatory nature of the leads involved in this series dictates that everything in their lives cannot remain structured and unchanged as life (or death) always has a way of creeping up on you. Our lead vampire, despite being able to quench his thirst for blood while working at a hospital, only needs to watch the undoing of his maker from last season to propel him into a situation he cannot control. The most intriguing of all is the introduction of his lost love who supposedly went on a rampage when he was around in the 1920s. The flashbacks and the way they are captured are undeniably forthcoming because it shows the indelible sense of self-control that is required of this person. Our werewolf in question is both bringing and diminishing more from his pack and the dichotomy of his new girlfriend because of what she is, emboldens the idea of alpha versus benign into a very tense atmosphere. Our ghostly female roommate-in-question finds more of her own and finds out that it might be possible for her to sleep (and therefore dream) but it unlocks something inside her which, when compounded with certain forms of addiction (like possession of a human to experience sex), creates an interesting form of withdrawal which is unbalanced by the death of her mother. The series continues to explore utterly human experiences in otherworldly situations using a seemingly progression of morality.

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