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Distant Worlds & Disseminating Information: The Fox Winter 2011 TCA Press Tour – Feature

Fox has always been at the forefront of trying new accents in terms of tonality within the broadcast structure taking changes on more edgy material that might hit or miss with audience depending on its structures. With some its new intensives including the long awaited “Terra Nova”, ambition plays heavily within the mind.

“Terra Nova” from the mind of Steven Spielberg and shepherded with the help of former Trek powerhouse Brannon Braga has the mythology and scope to create TV’s next big breakout show. Pace and breathe though can be hard to maintain unless the story structure is both inventive and mysterious, luminous yet tightly controlled.

Braga begins with the thought asking “can utopia be built?” and “is it practical?”. From the beginning with Spielberg, he says it is “ingenious what this guy comes up with”. In regards to the looming questions of production snafus which has plagued the series for months, Braga offers the fact that they only had one staff writing change because “it was taking longer than usual to mount this thing”.

The concept behind the show, as explained by Braga, is that there are pilgrimages to another world through a gate. Stephen Lang (late of “Avatar”) is first person back. He and others have been sent ahead to construct a town. The series picks up when there are 1000 people in the colony and 100 more coming through with every jump. The gate itself only opens every couple months. The myth as to how the portal was discovered is insinuated but the backstory points to a natural unearthing.

When he was helping wrap up “24”, he was aware of the project and that a script existed by Craig Silverstein. They wanted to get it up and running which obviously is credit to Spielberg. Braga says that it is the closest project he has worked on to “Star Trek” but that the series translates to him as “personally on a visual level using advanced technology in a primordial world”.

Alex Graves, who directed the much scrutinized pilot but also directed the “Fringe” pilot, jokes that part of the terror of having Steven Spielberg on your team is that he watches everything you do. In terms of shooting, he says that it took them a while to decide on Australia adding that “when you read the story, you could see what was coming”. He says that three hours after they got off the plane, “we started to see what could be in the show”. The location had caves, mountains and plant life. He says that what was good for the development of the pilot was that it took time. The crew was drafted as if they were going to war finding the best feature people they could. The show, he points out, is built and ready to go. He commits to the point that “this is not Lost” adding that “this is made for a massively broad audience…for everyone…everyone from my kids to myself to a gamer”.

Stephen Lang, who played the military baddie in the uberhit “Avatar”, plays Frank Taylor, one of the first humans to go back. He says, in terms of “Avatar” that “my scars are internal” saying that “people do come up to me and say ‘I really hate you'”. He adds jokingly that he takes the subway so he doesn’t make a scene. He points to the fact that with the worldwide impact of television, “Terra Nova” might have bigger impact than “Avatar” which is hard to imagine though he paints this project as “very different”.

Taking a very different spin by comparison is “Traffic Light” which based on the concept of people in cars and the comedy ensuing from that interaction to daily life in a comedic fashion seems a bit daunting.

David Hemingson, one of the exec producers, says that creating alot of the “live” feeling in the car with the cast has to come from improvisation. When they first wrote it, the problem was seeing if the actual “car scenes” would work. Unlike in studio car shots, these are done on the streets on actual process trailers. This was done “to create a dynamic and encourage conversational naturalism” though he admits he is prone to parking tickets.

Bob Fisher, one of the other exec producers with the writing team as well, explains that they started writing to that kind of naturalism in general. The first step was deciding that the car would be a material component of the show though they wanted to keep them short. They cut between the action in three cars consistently. The first bit ends with Nelson Franklin, who plays Adam, being pulled over. The irony is that when you do a car scene the coverage is surprisingly good although the actual reality of being on a process trailer is that you are constantly breathing fumes.

Nelson jumps in stating that “a good portion of our show works because the banter we have on show is because we are generally friends off camera.” His character Adam, he admits, is trying to be the best friend by trying to catch up with his buddies during errands. The delivery he explains was unconventional but its effectiveness “wasn’t even a question”.

“Breaking In” is a new half hour comedy using a tech-fueled ensemble that seeks to blend some of the esrtwhile spy hijinks of “Chuck” with Christian Slater’s own short lived hour dramatic “My Own Worst Enemy”. In using the shorter format, the hijinks of the intended endgame might resolve better than those before it.

Slater, for his part, is always ready for the challenge. He admits that the Oz whom he plays wasn’t as flushed out as it needed to be which called for refinement. This character heads Contra Security, and as Slater puts it, “he has his hands in alot of pots” though he does describe the guy as “an eccentric”. He continues that Oz know what the outcomes of a certain course of action will be from the start which allows to plan to do “illegal things legal”.

Seth Gordon, one of the creators, was the man behind the documentary “King Of Kong”. What interested him was this growing underground community of hackers but seeing it as a new office situation because of the evolution of ideas it presents.

Bret Harrison, who plays the lead Cameron Price, says that the approach to the character has to be about more than him being smart which is reflected in his awkwardness. Cameron’s safety zone resided in college where he feels safe which balances to the idea that any other place becomes a challenge.

Fox continues to approach the programming game with a variety of elements, the most intensive in years being “Terra Nova” because of its investment but with smaller shows like “Traffic Light” and “Breaking In” in specifying to concept, they have ability for some breakout shows.

Finality, Character & Texture: The ABC Winter 2010 TCA Press Tour – Feature

ABC has show an ability for a specific cross-section of shows that push the envelope. While some like “Pushing Daisies” and “Better Off Ted” sometimes start to fall along the wayside, other successes like “Castle”, “Cougar Town” and “Modern Family” show that by angling the formula to a not-set portrayal, one can reap great awards. However with “Flash Forward” not performing as high as thought, the behemoth of “Lost” accelerates into its final season.

Lost The influx of many of the cast members for the final season were met with a thundering round of applause for this show who, in many ways, captured the zeitgeist the way few other shows in the past couple years have been able to do.

Emile de Ravin, who plays the returning Claire who had been missing since we saw her in Jacob’s hut a few seasons back, mentioned that they have seven more episodes to film in Hawaii. Her fondest moments have been when the whole cast has been together because of its family connotations though when she read the pilot back in the beginning, it took 3 times before it made any sense.

Evangeline Lilly, who was picked out of obscurity to play Kate, admits that as she was coming out for these final interviews, she knew she was going to “cry like a baby when it ends”. One of the aspects people don’t know is how hard filming the show can be. For her, the most lingering moments that stay in her mind come from the first season especially in the scenes when Claire gave birth and Boone died. That specific episode for her “culminated everything we were talking about”. The most intrinsic point for her was trying to find Kate as a character. Also being on Hawaii shooting can be a double-edged sword (in her estimation). She says “living in paradise is a little bit of a prison” because “when we’re on the island, we are on the island” but there is “an innate sense of freedom now that we are anticipating the end”.

Daniel Dae Kim, whose character Jin, morphed from a non-English speaking character to utterly subtle feats of discourse, says that the moment for him that defined the show was when they were launching the raft in the first season because that provided a culmination of thought. Now with the 6th season, the narrative style is again changing somewhat which distinctly makes it all the more challenging.

Josh Holloway, who created one of the most nuanced con-men in TV history, with the nickname-spewing Sawyer, says the whole experience has been incredible but there has been something about this last year. He admits a certain propensity for group scenes. He says they take two or three days to film but if you position yourself right, that is key, and admits he has gotten very good at that. For him, the premiere this year felt big like a finale which points for an interesting end to come. He thinks back to when he read the original pilot. His first impression was that Sawyer “was an asshole” and that he, as an actor” had “to figure out how to stay alive” because “unless [Sawyer] became something different, he might die soon”. He parallels the aspect of Kate explaining “as Evy says, to play a character within a place, you have to explore new character perspectives”. Josh’s observation of this man becomes that “Sawyer has been walking the fine line of humanity but retaining his edge”. This comes on the aspect of the writers putting him through every possible situation, both emotionally and physically. The scariest thing of all was “the whole Juliet thing”. He thought the audience might reject those two characters getting together because it was “discovering his humanity while being salty”. He admits that many of the greatest points of his life happened during the show: “validation as an actor, marrying, having a baby, my first home”.

Michael Emerson, who emerged in later seasons as a major character in Benjamin Linus, says that, with a show like “Lost”, it is better to be in the dark adding that “it is nice not to be burdened with the secret” because “that seems to get in the way”. In terms of the moments he remembers most, he jokes “that I have alot of fond memories of breathless confrontations in small rooms”. He says the Whidmore Bedroom and Jacob scenes are “scary and I love them”. He also mentions a scene when he and Sawyer are on a cliff and trading Steinbeck quotes all the while with Ben saying “I have a rabbit in my backpack”. In terms of the ending of season five, he thought it to be a master move adding “that it was a two-part cliffhanger but sufficiently mind-bending”. He ultimately sees Ben “as a character that reacts in a calculated way but once in while acts in a childishly impulsive way”.

Terry O’Quinn, who undertakes the enigma of Locke, says that he found out that he wasn’t real Locke during last season about a month before the episode aired, indicating that he was completely unaware to the fact for most of last season. For him, there is no true special moment in the series though he remembers when they were hanging out between a break in filming listening to Naveen Andrews playing guitar under the famous Banyan tree. He also reflects back to the pilot with JJ telling him that at first in the beginning with Locke there wouldn’t be alot but later on there would be.

Damon Lindelof, who along with fellow executive producer Carlton Cuse, have become the think tank of “Lost” after the departure of co-creator JJ Abrams, says that the idea of ending with the 6th season is “doing it while we still care” calling “Lost” “a once-in-a-career experience”. ABC allowing them to end the series on these specific terms is what Damon terms “a tremendous gift”. He echoes Evangeline in that they can’t believe it is coming to an end. In terms of what they tell the actors in terms of the story, he jokes that “quite honestly, we don’t speak to them at all”. He uses the example that if they told Terry O’Quinn (who plays Locke) that he was actually playing a guy from 1000 years ago, it would completely alter the approach. For Lindelof, the most memorable points in the show are the bridging aspects in creating these connections. For the following seasons, they usually start writing in the summer time but the inherent challenge always was walking the bridge, even when time travel came into play. In terms of the finale, he says with a wry smile: “Get ready to scratch your heads America”.

Lindelof says the major shift since the show started is informational because of the minutae that the fans follow vigorously. The biggest obstacle is to “guarantee a shitty ending” to “Lost”. For him, “the worst ending we could provide is a safe ending” but “you can’t take a risk just to take a risk” because ultimately in respect they “have no excuse to say anything other than ‘this is the way we wanted it to end'”. He admits that there is hope on their parts to wow the audience with the finite possibilities of the finale because “it wouldn’t be ‘Lost’ if it wasn’t an ongoing or active debate”. In terms of story for the final season, “there is an inherent process that when ending something, you always think about the beginning. He reflects on an earlier comment by Josh about the essence of new character perspectives because “you want to show the audience the before of where the characters were then”. He says he does reflect on what the legacy of the show will be but realizes that in the weeks after the series finale airs, the only thing people will be thinking about is just that episode. He makes a comparison to “The Sopranos” because people remember absolutely everything about the diner scene and the fade to black. The end always moves in mysterious ways.

Carlton Cuse, who runs the show with Damon, says that “we came up with the final image of the show in the first season but we started to add elements to that as we went along towards the end point”. The character stuff, he adds, works itself out as you go along but that the process of ending the show was fun because, as in many seasons before, the actors didn’t know where it was going beyond the next given script. The network has not pressured them for a spin-off but definitely says that “we are ending this story”. As far as the moment he remembers most, it involved Jack swimming out with the dog to save the drowning girl. In terms of the new season, the premiere picks up exactly where the finale last season left off. He agrees that they have been very circumspect about what actually might be going on in the 6th season. Jack and Farraday, he says, believe that the bomb going off might reset everything. He warns that not every question will be answered because they still want to maintain a fundamental sense of mystery.

Executive Briefing: Stephen McPherson The enigmatic and charming head of ABC entertainment actually made a point of introducing the “Lost” cast stating that many of the crew and some of the cast were still in Hawaii shooting but that “we look forward to finishing the journey”.

He recollects that when they were shooting the pilot for “Lost”, “with Evangeline, it came down to 24 hours before” when they barely got her work visa cleared from Canada. He credits Abrams and Lindelof for having a plan and a mythology in what “arguably will be one of the most influential shows of the decade”. He compares the season premiere “to nothing different than a gigantic movie” adding that “they put all they spend on the screen”.

In terms of ABC’s fall, McPherson announced the picks up of “Cougar Town”, “Modern Family” and “The Middle” for next season. No decisions, he says, have been made yet on “Hank” or “Better Off Ted” while “Castle” is their highest performing repeat show saying that, with the Alyssa Milano episode, the show “has met its stride” adding that he “hears so much anecdotally about that show”. To that point, he says that many “shows are alchemy to some extent”. With “Modern Family”, the pitch was simply “a big family”.

In terms of two new and expensive shows finding their footing, McPherson says, first off, with “V”, they always intended it to be in chapters but that production issues came into play. With “Flash Forward”, he said, it was a bit different because the repeat viewers didn’t seem to be coming back. The show’s reaction has to be supportive of its production. That is why they did a big push about bring “Flash Forward” back while making “V” more independent of that conversation. He sees a similar possibility in the upcoming “Happy Town” because it is also “serialized and event” but “honestly it all comes down to how it performs in the end” adding that they don’t have a set premiere date as of yet.

In terms of the response on the ongoing NBC difficulties, he says that “seeing a great network tumble is not something we revel in” because “it is disconcerting to see that happening in the industry”. That said, McPherson states that they are actually up 8% in their 10pm slots because the inherent situation has put “an emphasis on creative shows” adding that “we are very happy with the way things have gone down.”

The Deep End One of the few new shows that ABC is bringing forth is this lawyer drama which uses the rookie perception to show this cutthroat world in a new era.

Exec Producer David Hemingson, whose experience in the legal world provided the basis for the series, calls it “a confluence of circumstances” since “the show mirrors the beginning of my career. Billy Zane, as the venemous Cliff Huddle, calls his character “a shark” with a personality “always moving…always calculating”. He sees Cliff as operating on his own code because even though he and his wife are very passionate, he can’t keep his hands off of everybody else so he is interested how they handle his infidelity.

Clancy Brown, an actor best known for his genre turns in “Highlander” and “Starship Troopers” and recently mentioned as a front runner for the movie adaptation of “Lobo”, sees the story as a reflection of present day mediaries in that “you just look at the headlines and see the struggles between the letter of the law and the spirit of the law”. Matt Long, embodying series lead Dylan Hewitt who must deal with attacks on all sides, used lawyers in his family as reference but understood the key to the character is “to add to the situation but not add to what the hell is going on” but “it also helps to know what you’re [actually] saying.

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