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Quality Perpetration & Brand Persistence: The TCA Cable Summer 2013 Press Tour – Feature

Cable perpetrates a certain degree of quality and persistence to brand, almost more than broadcast does. The key is figuring a tendency of forethought despite this hold back which can be more challenging and alluring simply because it allows subjects that might be too niche for certain progressions to be explored.

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Beginning with ESPN, the 30 for 30 Film Series continues this angle in Volume 2 with “Big Shot” directed by “Entourage” alum Kevin Connolly about famed (or infamous) New York Islanders coach Joe Spano. Connolly grew up on Long Island and was a rabid fan of the hockey club but that didn’t necessarily mean Joe would cooperate. “Growing up on Long Island, the Islanders were part of my childhood” states Connolly. For him, these films are “really just stories about people with a sports backdrop”. He explains that Joe, as a character, “was not motivated (as much) by greed and money, he just wanted to be a star”. He also relates that Joe really didn’t want to tell his story but that “he knew me from ‘Entourage'”. He agrees that it took a “hardcore Islander fan” to make the film but that “it was a trip inside the mind of a guy where I didn’t know what he was thinking sometimes”. Connolly put in photos of himself as a kid at Islander games and narrated the film in his own voice saying he knows “it is a slippery slope” but that “it is a very personal story and continues to be”. Kevin says in making the movie with Joe, the former coach “knew that there were going to be some unpleasant things discussed” but that “he didn’t tell me to take out anything but he did deny me a couple things”.

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Keith Olbermann, in interesting fanfare, marked his return to ESPN where the courtship has always been tenuous. His point-of-view is that it has been “particularly gratifying” and that “we have been talking about (doing) something for a year or more.” He explains that “the idea of burned bridges being a complete impediment [is something] I never really bought” and that “I never believed in giving up on the whole thing”. Time will tell.

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Adult Swim, as a perpendicular cross-structure to ESPN, offers an out-there mentality for a succession of like-minded creatives. Integrating Dan Harmon in his brief “Community” sabbatical to help create “Rick & Morty”, an animated adventure series, seems inspired. In terms of why he likes this angle, Harmon explains that “You can make a banana purple. You can put three hats on a cowboy [in the show]” but that the influences rest “more in British sci-fi like ‘Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy'”. In terms of the connection creatively after his much ballyhooed struggles with “Community” brass, Harmon speaks of Mike Lazzo (Sr. EVP at Adult Swim) as “a bonafide genius” because “he has the autonomy and mental power to take a script and realize what it is”. His point is that as an executive, Lazzo never tells you that “people are going to perceive it ‘that’ way” in that “he doesn’t confuse the script with the finished product”. In terms of the progression of this series, he says “alot of the episodes hit the traditional A/B structure before they [the characters] head off in the beginning [of an episode] to [some] multi-verse”.

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In terms of building story, Harmon says “the thing I learned from ‘Community’ is that if the emotional resonance is dynamic, the genre is a variable”. He illustrates this saying “a mother could worry about her kid being dragged off to a different dimension just as much as when he leaves with his skateboard friends”. He compares these emotional themes rather interestingly with another analogy: “Same thing with a dragon coming in through the living room being used to create the idea “Is God real?”. This encapsulates in Harmon’s mind with “the constraints that come with a different way to reach an audience”. He admits to talking with Adult Swim for a long time to find something right to work on and that the connection speaks to “my insecurity about getting older without getting wackier”. In terms of finally finding the right material with co-creator Justin Roiland, Harmon relates that Roiland “had these two knuckleheads in these cartoons who were unmarketable and my thought was how to make them marketable” Roiland, for his part, says “we are able to create any insane dimension” adding that “it is very ambitious for a cartoon…with very little reuse”.

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Velocity, in trying to find a parallel moving through Hollywood, finds an interesting progression with Patrick Dempsey in their reality series “Racing Le Mans“. Dempsey himself reflects on the race’s importance saying that “the heritage is out of Europe” and “it has a broader type of appeal”. In terms of approaching such an in-your-face sport, he says “I think you learn to be private in the public arena”. For him, “the same applies to working on a TV show” in that “you find out how to get privacy publicly”

HBO always constitutes a large structure of cable, since like its network-owned rival Showtime, the possibilities between film, documentaries and series are one-and-the-same progression.

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Muhammad Ali’s Greatest Fight” takes a look at the battle over Ali’s stand as a “conscientious objector” from the point of view of the Supreme Court justice system while instituting Ali’s perspective only from news footage of the day. Screen legend Christopher Plummer plays Justice John Harlan and his memories of the occurrence from that time was that he knew that Ali had been accused of being a “conscientious objector” but not much more. For Harlan, from Plummer’s perspective, there wasn’t alot to research but that his character “was given the option of being more human than the others”. As to Frank Langella, who plays a fellow Supreme Court Justice in the film, Plummer says “acting with him was as natural as falling off a log”. Plummer states that they have known each other for years but had never worked together. Benjamin Walker, last seen in the Fox film “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter”, plays Connolly, who is an amalgamation of a couple different aides in the Justices’ offices at that time, says that the character “wouldn’t readily be in the circumstance” but that “he is a conduit of what is going on in America” in that “he carries it on his back and it influences his behavior”.

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“Mike Tyson: Undisputed” takes the former heavyweight champ’s recent one-man show and brings it in up-close visual by filmmaker Spike Lee. Lee, for his part, concedes that the origin of the show started in Vegas. One of his colleagues saw the show there and said that the filmmaker had to see it. Lee tracked down Tyson in Poland. While Lee admits Vegas is Vegas, he pushes that “Broadway is Broadway” which is where the show ended up for a limited run. The aspect that he liked in the show was that “it was about Mike himself” going on to say “that most human beings are not going to display the dark parts of themselves to the world”. With Mike’s show, he explains, there is “no bullshit…no lies”. Mike “talks about the great things he has done and the not-so-great things he has done”. Sitting next to the champ, Lee describes them as “two Brooklyn boys”. When they grew up, he explains “we weren’t living in the projects” and “we grew up at the same time” explaining that there was a “diversty that African Americans experience in this country” that reflects in them. Turning to Tyson, Lee says “to me, you seem the happiest you have ever been”.

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Tyson, for his part, always has some interesting angles to express. In looking at his stage performance, he explains “once I got on the stage, I got the energy from the crowd like a live fight”. What surprised him was “that the show came more off as stand-up” which was not originally his intention. For him “what is reckless on stage is splendor in the ring” and vice versa. His point is that “I didn’t want to act like Mike Tyson” but also “I am not Charles Manson but I [also] am not Mother Theresa.” He punctuates that with even more humor saying “don’t get too close as I may bite as you know”. In response to the life he has led, Tyson says that “there is never enough life” and “I have not many regrets” except “I wish I was a better father”. For him, “everything I have was all fun-based”. He relates that when he first met Spike, he almost ran over him in Brooklyn with his Rolls-Royce adding “I didn’t have a license but I had a really nice car”. In terms of how the show came about, he said that he was inspired by seeing Chazz Palminteri doing “A Bronx Tale”. He had been doing similar, almost workshops, where he spoke in Asia. His wife Kiki, who is a writer, was key in creating his voice on-stage. The one thing he does like about performance “is that I don’t have to go to the hospital after unlike the ring”. Like the ring though, he says “I am ready to die quick or kill quick like a war” saying “it is just my spirit”.

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Hello Ladies” starring Stephen Merchant, who with Ricky Gervais, brought “The Office” to the US, stars in this new series that has him playing Stuart, an Englishman that blunders through modern day Los Angeles on adventures. For his character, Merchant explains “he was a loser in England and he is a loser here” adding that Stuart “is socially awkward” but “thinks that this is a world of glamor in Los Angeles”. The importance here for Merchant is “trying to incorporate physical humor”. He explains that he is a great fan of John Cleese in that “he used that frame and gankiness”. Being himself, 6 foot 7 inches, Merchant says “there is something out of place being this tall” adding that “I have never been comfortable with this height” and “I was not good at basketball” though he admits “I like to go to Lakers games because I am among my people”

Seduced & Abandoned” is a documentary created by writer/director James Toback and Alec Baldwin following them as they try to pitch and get a film funded at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival. The catch is that the film is a sexual thriller (ala “Last Tango In Paris” but set in the Middle East.

Toback, in his perspective, says that the “actual result of the film didn’t depend on whether we would get the financing or not” adding that it “was always meant to be an existential film”. He explains that “we didn’t know who we were using from day to day”. The film they would have made (“Last Tango To Tecreate”) was meant to be a serious film as it was “a sexual psychological drama played against a political backdrop”

For Baldwin, speaking via satellite from Long Island, the project offered an interesting and different approach to the film business. The big overarching element is how Hollywood is fueled by franchises now. Baldwin’s part as Jack Ryan in “The Hunt For Red October” is used as an example. In explaining his actions after that film, Baldwin says “I remember at the time, I wanted to continue the films” adding “if I had any brains, I would have stayed with it, knowing what I know now” because doing those franchises “gives you freedom”. The key lesson in his mind is “if you don’t find some way to work in films that make money, it becomes a tough road”. He cites Hugh Jackman as being a successful actor in doing a “one for you, one for me” progression with the different companies. This specific project came about because he and Toback wanted to make a film. They settled on the “Last Tango” idea and work-shopped its possibility by going to Cannes “and asking people who are very in demand” about how it would play. He says “we were elated by the people who said yes” adding that “sitting with [director Roman] Polanski was one of the most thrilling parts of my life”.

When giving advice to younger people. Baldwin says “during your 20s, even privately, give everything you have” because “it is going to require that”. One thing that surprised him when he and Toback met Ryan Gosling in Cannes, is “how much savvier he is about the business than I was at that age”. Looking back then at television where he recently has found much success with “30 Rock”, Baldwin explains that TV “is the world of the show-runner”. For him “when [Aaron] Sorkin or [David] Chase calls the shots, the actors don’t really have as much power as you think they have”. The irony is that the actors “are often handed a piece of the bill when things gets skewered”. Offering some self-reflection, he continues “you never have to wonder where you stand in the business because the business always has a thermometer in your mouth saying how hot you are”. He adds with humor and some seriousness that “when they made ‘Lincoln’, [Steven] Spielberg did not call me.” The reality, from his point of view, is that “all the varied elements are at the big stars’ disposal” and that “for everyone else, the movie business is a lot of whitewater”.

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Speaking of interesting choices, Larry David who found great success post-Seinfeld with his HBO series “Curb Your Enthusiasm” decided to make a HBO film in “Clear History” instead of pursuing a new season of “Curb”. While “History” is mostly improvised, it is based off a 30-page outline. For his part, David says “I was thinking about ‘Curb’ but I wanted to do a movie”. His physical appearance at the beginning of the movie is quite jarring but he says “the make-up was intolerable” and “felt like ten thousand insects on my head”. That said he thought “I cut quite a figure” but admits that this film “was more like a ‘Curb’ experience”; the difference being that “I didn’t worry about directing, I could just act in it”.

Cable continues to percolate with distinct voices coming through the channels though personal stories tend to take on a more encompassing structure as evidenced at the TCA 2013 Summer Tour.

Imaginative Escapes, New Excursions & Life Levitated: The 2011 NBC Winter Press Tour – Feature

With the resurgence of returning in full view with scripted shows, NBC continues to keep in view with the possibilities of drama, comedy and genre to create a balanced portfolio.

“The Cape”, a structured answer to follow up the highly-regarded but ultimately short-lived “Heroes”, makes the intentions much simpler at the inset with a simple man who is murdered taking up his morality on a underworld lord.

David Lyons, who plays Vince Faraday, the man at the center of “The Cape”, says that “the character wants to do things right with a straight back” adding that he has tried to give the man an “emotional epicenter” to provide a way to fight back allowing the personfication to “prop itself up”. Making reference to the stuntwork, handled by Team 8811, he cites the importance in the series of using everyday objects as weapons optimizing on a legitimate fighting form.

Tom Wheeler, the exec on the series, says in his mind “capes are superheroes” saying that “there is something that connects them with us through childhood”. He sees, within the evolution of the current series, that they are able to capture different tones in different episodes adding though that “the latitude of storytelling remains emotionally grounded”. Wheeler continues that of all the characters, Jennifer Faraday, who is the lead character’s grieving widow, provides the incentive connection to the audience because she is not a superhero, simply tragic for the fact that she lost her husband. In terms of the danger of the stunts for some of the actors, he said he was worried the other day about Lyons fighting with Vinnie Jones, who plays a grim enforcer but that, if viewers want drama, there is more than enough.

Summer Glau, best know for her genre turns on “Firefly” and “The Sarah Connor Chronicles” credits her popularity among the fanboy culture in that she “found just the right spot” saying that this new series allows her to take her previous experiences and grow. She says that she loves the attention “except when I am at the grocery store with no make-up on” adding that Orwell, her character in “The Cape”, “feels like she has her own mission, matched with a very interesting skill set”.

“Perfect Couples” balances the idea of action back down to an inexact science as a new comedy which follows three couples in various stages of their functionality trying to find their way in the world.

Series creator Jon Pollack explains that “gender roles [in society] have never been more confused so it is a good time to write this series” adding that the institution is “easy to tear down” because “every perfect couple in the world is quite a mess”. The couples in this series, he says, have found each other but “there are rules to how it works” explaining that the stability of these people are like “the squishy part on top of a baby’s head”.

Different parts of the cast come from different emotions with Olivia Munn, who plays Leigh, saying that each of them may be cast but “we are not the characters” while Hayes McArthur who plays her better half Rex says that he “loved playing a guy who was so happy to be in a good relationship”.

Co-creator Scott Silveri invokes the tendency that “in a show that deals with relationships, the characters playing create the dynamics” continuing that the challenge is that “it is easy to make jokes about the ball and chain”.

Changing structure to reality, “The Next Great Restaurant” takes the trust of established restauranteurs like Bobby Flay and puts their intention to the test. He and his cohorts want to find the next fast casual restaurant powerhouse but it takes motivation to get there.

Flay initiates the thought saying that they are looking for that “next thing”. He uses the chain: Chipotle (which co-financier Steve Ells runs) as an example destination that has a cult following because it is well thought-out. This show, Flay explains, differentiates itself in his mind because they are putting their own money in and want it to work out in the best possible way.

Ells, another investor on the series, follows saying that “there is a food revolution going on in this country”. He makes the differentiation with “fast casual food” by diverging that “fast food is about cheap ingredients, about toys” adding that “not everyone has access to high end restaurants or grocery stores”. For Ells, creating that special restaurant is “also about the personality and the dynamics that are taking place [within it]”. This show, he continues, is about determining if “these people [the contestants] have the kind of leader qualities to bring it to its full potential”. As the investors, he and his fellow financiers “have the ability to surround ourselves with teams to push our vision” Eve so, he encourages that while “we all want them to do well, it is heartbreaking when they don’t succeed”.

Shifting back to comedy, “Community”, as a show, seems to be finding its legs by flying off with them creating fantastical worlds with a bit of imagination that seems to be clasping on with audiences to a substantial degree.

Creator Dan Harmon, uncomfortable seemingly with talk of the show’s liberation, says that “I always knew I would be comfortable on a show that had versatility” but admits that he knows “it sounds like a bad idea to caress the 4th wall”. His explanation is that “like every great show, you have to have one foot in and one foot out” citing Gonzo on “The Muppets” and Crazy Jim on “Taxi” as forebearers. He started to realize that “Community” had found its footing when Joel McHale started to inhabit the role of Jeff Winger saying that the character is no longer “the straight man where the Looney Tunes need his help” but rather defining him more as “a narcissistic jaded softy who is afraid of becoming the hero”.

As far as NBC’s creative tendencies on the series, Harmon comments that “I will tell you without fear that I have never worked for such a creatively open network” adding with a bit of irony that “it is too bad that they don’t know it is incredibly bad for ratings”. He admits that the special episodes like the Halloween and Christmas specials take more time but that is to make sure they are being done right. He stresses that there  is still a “granular reality to the show” because “you just can’t go out into the cosmos”. He talks about this in relation to an episode they are doing where the cast plays “Dungeons & Dragons” but they don’t cut away. Harmon says it is stylized for them in this way to make it interesting. There is also another episode coming up where Pierce (played by Chevy Chase) is in the hospital for the duration of the half. That aspect of drama and humor, he explains, “is blurred and should be”.

Joel McHale follows this rambunctious wistfulness saying “I’d scream at Dan and say ‘I thought this was 24′” before bringing the proceedings back to reality saying that he always knew this would be an ensemble cast, otherwise “it would be boring if it was just about Jeff’s struggle to get out of college”. He cites that one of “sweetest moments” of the series was in the zombie episode where Abed, played by Danny Pudi, sacrifices himself with a bit of “Star Wars” hokum saying the line “I love you” responded with “I know”.

Pudi, one half of the comedy volley with Donald Glover’s Troy, explains that “sometimes I feel like a blank slate in a study room with explosions going on all over me” adding that his and Donald’s rap with Betty White was a “magical experience” because “we rehearsed with her only right before he shot it”. Donald balances his compadre, joking that he likes “anything with the action in it”. He refers to their little flights of fancy on the show as “baby movies” citing the zombie as his favorite because “it allows us to feel not stupid” in knowing “that no one’s going to die”. He ponders for a minute on the Christmas episode calling it “really funny but that it can also be really sad”.

Alison Brie, who plays the burgeoning Annie says that they like to make themselves laugh on set but reinforces the fact that “we are lucky to be on a show that goes back and forth between two things” adding that “it’s great to take a break from home but you miss the other”. The goal of the show, which many dictate to the four year format of college, plays “more vague” in Brie’s mind allowing the time “for us to connect more to the characters in crisis”, especially in Annie case, in learning how “she ticks”.

Bringing the power player forward, “Harry’s Law” is a crime/law show that knows its pedigree. Taking the original lead character from a crotchety old man to the personage of an edgy persnickety hen in the form of Oscar winner Kathy Bates has infinite greatness to it especially if issues-motivated guru David E. Kelly drives the ship in his usual dexterous manner.

Kelley begins the intensity saying that the neighborhood the show is set in is going through gentrification. The character of Harry, as mentioned, was originally written as a cantankerous old man. He says the character as a woman was eventually established as a politically incorrect grump. He dictates that NBC has not blinked at any of the ideas for the show and, unlike ABC with Boston Legal, have been lenient with dialogue, especially in the use of the word “asshole”. The show is set in Cincinnati but it could have been any smaller city as long as it didn’t have gang neighborhoods which would have initiated a different structure in Kelley’s mind. The conflict here is much more about a class war.

Kelley understands that this show is a tough sell especially since a 60-year-old led drama is “not what people are coming to me for” but says that “there needs to be two or three series that can do topical debate”. With the character of Harry, “she can be lovable because she can exude a sympathy” even if she “is front and center with a hard exterior”. Harry, for Kelley, is “more comfortable being disliked” but angles that “the trick is that the audience has to like her”. The voices of any of his characters, in Kelley’s mind, have to be true to themselves. As they have progressed in shooting the series, Kelley admits that the tone has become more dramatic. Historically for the showrunner, he admits that “my shows have started slower and built” usually working from mixed reactions on the pilot (which might not work well in this new TV realm). One of the elements that strays forth in his mind is that “law nowadays is struggling to keep the pace”.

Kathy Bates, as Harry, says she was sold when she read that her character “had her feet up on the desk, was smoking pot and watching Bugs Bunny”. She admits that she can be “naturally grumpy” and that “adjusting to the long hours on set helped that right along”. With any project she “never thinks where my name is going to fit in” which “is what attracted her” to this part. Initially when looking for the tone of the character, she tried on a red wig since “we assumed she would dye her hair” but then she realized “Harry would give a rat’s ass what her hair look like”.

Making sense of the character intentions across the diversity of these shows speaking to NBC’s burgeoning embrace of a new texture of show creation which is enabling both creative vision and interesting possibilities.

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