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.
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”.
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.
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”.
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”.
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.
“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”.
“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”.
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”.
“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”.
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.
The essence of cable is based between the aspects of reality, scripted essence and the angle of creative paradoxes. The key is pushing the envelopes in more ways the one and not creating the aspect of nitch as much as the angle of the now. The Cable Portion of the Summer 2009 TCA Summer Press Tour speaks to the angle of the voice versus the perception of the idea.
AMC/Mad Men Cocktail Party Entering in off the terrace into the grasp of sunset, the essence of the smoothness continues to build. Sitting on a posh chair swishing around a Manhattan inundated with a cherry as the scotch continues to flow, Christina Hendricks who plays Joan, the sly and in-control office manager on the series, twirls the men with equal precision around her finger working the terrace in a form fitting green dress, both retro and modern. Most of the cast seem to highlight much of their personas from wardrobe which was obviously highlighted from the costume department for this event. Jon Hamm positioned by the door was holding a gaggle of people rapt within his tales as the bar continued pouring. While traversing the party in the company of a younger and compelling 22 year old woman, the interaction came to Rich Sommer, who plays Harry Crane, a rising star within the Madison Avenue office who always tries to find the balance but also the edge of the moral code prevalent in his work. The actor and his wife moved from New York when he got the gig and have been here for the compelling three years since. Our discussion turned to theater in NY which he has not done yet but would be interesting for him during the haitus. He reflected that it is in fact 7 months between shooting of the seasons to adhere to AMC’s specific airing schedule so there is much time down. As the cigarette smoke drifted in silky rhythm as cast member looking off the Roman essence of the terrace into the sunset, the characteristic element of the Emmy Award winning drama lushily made itself known.
TV Land The early morning essence of the shows began in earnest as the introductions began in earnest. Joan Rivers took the podium with gusto talking about her new series “How Did You Get So Rich”. When Rivers gets going, she is like a freight train with a lot of blue stops along the way. She spoke of Dustin Hoffman who lives next door to Barbara Streisand. His dog gets massages. She says why do you have to get any more relaxed when you can already lick your own balls? The people she interviews on her new show don’t promote envy because most of them came from nothing. However some of the objects they buy sometimes seem to defy description. She says that one guy opened his safe filled with money and she had an orgasm which she peppers with the follow up that it was the first time she had one since Melissa was born. She chuckles and even admits that this early morning joke might have crossed the line. She also enters her thought on the looming Jay Leno Show at 10pm since she herself used to have her own late night show. Her opinion is that people will get bored more easily and go to bed earlier. The crops will all be greener. The woman doesn’t pull the punches for sure.
Nickelodeon With the success of “The Penguins Of Madagacar”, the pursuit of the intention of more animation seems like a natural fit. With his long standing success as head of multiple studios, Michael Eisner would be one to know the landscape. With his new stop motion show “Glenn Martin DDS”, the irony is a bit closer. Unlike “Happy Days” which he shepherded in the 70s, this new show is more about a modern family being torn apart. Eisner says that the show is both “opposite and the same”. It is about family but this is not the 50s. Eisner explains that this outlay is no different from what he has done in his whole career. At Disney, it was a matter of more people in the process. He remembers when he came up with “Happy Days” when he was snowbound at Newark Airport. He further represents that the aspect of “Beverly Hills Cop” came about when he was stopped in Beverly Hills coming from Paramount. The “puppet animation”, as he puts it, is a natural extension. When he was at ABC in the 60s, he gave the go-ahead for the “Frosty” special, followed soon after by “Rudolph”. The laugh tracks present in “Martin DDS” are derived from his enjoyment of the laugh tracks on “The Jetsons”. He believes this new show will bring stop motion back to the forefront (which of course is a tall order). He reflects that with “Barney Miller”, he had trouble getting it on the air. “Cheers” had a brisk to it which also could be considered difficult. But all of these shows, in his mind, had an aspect of social commentary. By comparison, at Disney, he said they had the aspect that “the family that plays together stays together”. Star Kevin Nealon, formerly of SNL, says that his favorite shows were “Gilligan’s Island” and “Wild Wild West”. He sarcastically remarks that they were looking for a “voice” and he had one but it was difficult since he was being offered so many shows at the time.
Comedy Central Making a show with less than socially correct puppets has always been a mine for comedy. It is just a matter of hitting the right marks. Jeff Dunham has been working and doing his schtick as a ventriloquist for years. His routine with his crochety old compatriot Walter works precisely for the fact that the marionette can say things that he simply can’t. Dunham says he wants to give a real edge to the show. One of the first things that came to his mind was to have his Middle Eastern puppet Ahkmed do a sketch at the airport. The aspect that still fascinates him is that people still forget that the dolls are not real. His associates, when making the pieces, simply tell the interviewees to “pay no attention to Jeff”. Walter, his most famous creation, is inspired by one of his friend’s fathers from college. He says that when you would carry on a conversation with him and stare him straight in the eye, the man would seem frightened. Combine that, he says, with aspects of Bette Davis’ last appearance on “The Tonight Show With Johnny Carson” where the actress simply said whatever she wanted. At this point, he brings out Walter, who simply says that “we have peaked” and that it feels “like it was in Chris Brown’s car”. Walter then proceeds to offer different headlines that go along with his pessimistic demise of this said show including “Dunham Show Dolls Out Cheap Laughs”, “Dunham Show Funny as Fucking Wood” and “Dunham Show Needs Helping Hands” (which elicits some groans from the background). Dunham goes onto say that they will be introducing a new character called Melvin The Superhero who doesn’t have any powers to speak of. He does admit that if he has a couple drinks, Walter is the character that will come out as it did on the second taping on one of his DVDs. He did a tequila shot just with a friend before the show and it hit him a little harder than he would have expected. Walter materialized in vigor. In terms of ventriloquism, as an art form, he does say that it is a dying art. He speaks of the annual ventriloquist convention which draws about 400 attendees, 8 of which work professionally. Of course the stigma tends to be always there.
History Channel With a show addressing social consciousness, the trick is not to make it too preachy in the overall scheme of its progression. With the new show “The People Speak”, the History Channel is attempting to highlight some very real perceptions of how ordinary people make a different. Matt Damon and Chris Moore who were involved with “Project Greenlight” believed in the project enough to propel it. Damon speaks that “People” shows how everyday citizens change the course of history calling it, for him, “a very empowering experience”. The aspect that drew him was simply the material. He says people have a relationship with the book and that it relays itself perfectly into this format. He admits that he put money to the piece but that the main thrust of the “locomotive” was done by the other involved parties. He says that the History Channel was the exact right outlet because he says, it has “exploded” buoyed by the fact that “there is an appetite for history” and that “people in general seem to be more interested in politics now”. He admits that in many big Hollywood films that there is a lot of waste but that “different films have different catering budgets”. He brings the focus back to “People” saying that “things have not worked out well for any citizens who have conceded to the bandwagon”. The real work is about “being pushed by regular people”
Chris Moore, long a collaborator with Damon, says ultimately what it comes down to, in terms of motivating a show like this, is manpower. On projects like this, people come on to help because they want to do it, not because of a paycheck. The whole design of this series, he adds, is to go into the schools and connect with the kids. He entices that Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam did a cover of “No More War”, Bob Dylan did Woody Guthrie and John Legend did a slave spiritual along with “What’s Going On” which gives the program pop culture as well as historical relevance. Howard Zinn, who wrote the book on which the series is based, notes the question of how many people who struggle for an 8-hour day. When people in schools sometimes speak of “the history collective” as he puts it, one tends to get a lecture on the masters of the freedom trail. The point, Zinn says, is “to teach qualitatively and not quantatively, to not just celebrate but to make people think” because “all citizens have the power of demanding”.
National Geographic Looking into the teeth of a Great White Shark might be a compelling moment even for the star of “The Fast & The Furious” franchise. Paul Walker, long an avid surfer with a love of the ocean (his black muscle car outside is strapped for his surfboard), was invited along for the ride by one of his friends who offered him the job as a deckhand to take the unprecedented task of bringing one of the massive sharks onboard. Paul, whom this reporter has met many times over the years, smiles saying that Jacques Cousteau is his idol. He mentions that he is on the board of the Billfish Foundation and when he got a call from exec producer Chris McKay on 4 days notice, he jumped at the chance to see the “awesomeness” of this animal up close although he admits “it hurt my surfing career”. McKay says that the progression in the field of microbiology allows these kind of studies to be part of the science agenda specifically in many ways in how it relates to astrobiology. The shark they captured nicknamed “Bruce” in an ode to the “Jaws” movies ate the outboard and props so it wasn’t the easiest capture.
Another more terran series in poise at Nat Geo is “Rescue Ink Unleashed” which follows the plight of some very tough guys (Eric, Joe Panz, Big Ant and Johnny O) who fight for the plight of abused and abandoned animals. They come in when the cops have done their part and things must be taken a step further. Joe speaks for the group saying that they stay on point until the situation gets resolved. The question becomes, if they show up, does it make a difference? His response is that they get the animal out of a bad situation. After they do the rescue, the vet gets involved and once it is determined there is no agression, the animals are placed into a better home. Otherwise, they come to the Ink Sanctuary called “The Clubhouse”. The process by which the cases are investigated is that a call goes to their girl Mary at the office. They then send in their guy, a former homicide investigator, that dispatches them to the situation if it warrants their attention. Then business is taken care of.
ESPN Having pop culture and media savvy filmmakers highlight what their sport icons mean to them makes for very interesting voices in a saturated market. “30 for 30” takes this approach by bringing some of these people together to create this kind of mosaic. For example, Ice Cube, filmmaker, actor and music star, takes on the iconography of the Los Angeles Raiders and what they meant to him. He says that his story is really the parallel between the Raiders image and what it did to the city of LA. He relates the fact that NWA (the rap group he was part of) took on part of that persona. He admits that Los Angeles, by rote, is owned by the Dodgers and the Lakers. The Raiders, as he puts it, were “the bad cousins that come to visit you”. He experienced that culture by being knee deep in that era of gansgta rap. It is at this point that, he says, the LA Kings hockey team changed their colors. Cube believes that this story is one that hasn’t been explored (and truly he is the person suited to bring it to light). He does this by interviewing many of the people interrelated at different points in this perspective from Eric Dickerson to Ice T to Marcus Allen to John Singleton. His piece he relates is more indicative of the community itself. Cube also opinionates himself on the lack of a current NFL franchise in the LA area saying “Los Angeles does not support NFL franchises unless they win” citing the Clippers as an example.
John Singleton, who worked with Cube on his seminal work “Boyz In The Hood”, thought that these stories across the board needed to be told not as they were in the media but by these respective filmmakers. The key here is to create a filter with something different. Fellow director Peter Berg, best known for action films “The Rundown” and “Hancock”, speaks of his segment on hockey player Wayne Gretsky whom he describes as a “very humble and shy person who was interested [in the idea] but not chomping at the bit”. He says he was most surprised to see the man becoming more enthusiastic as he came closer to the emotions. Berg speaks of being a Canadian and remembering how horrible the LA Kings were before Gretsky. He said that growing up in Edmonton Alberta where the athlete was originally based was an exercise in identity since the whole thought of the city was wrapped around this one individual. When Gretsky left for LA, it almost became a national issue which is what intrigued him about the story.
BBC The perception of British programming is the balance between the aspect of drama and the conceptual ideals that sometimes are able to traverse oceans. A good example is the passing of the baton for a show like “Dr. Who” which has enjoyed an exceptionally good run with its star David Tennant whom they are phasing out at the top of his popularity to maintain the brand. Creator/writer Russell Davies says that he and David were lucky to have worked together since they did “Casanova” originally for the BBC where he saw the essence of the Doctor. Davies says that there was a humor and comedy whereas most other actors who had taken on the part were playing it so seriously. He adds that there will be no massive distances between the doctors because it all has to do with experiences. One can’t depend on character hooks too much. The doctor maybe an alien and a timelord but ultimately for the most part he is human. That is the key.
Tennant, for his part, relates that, in view of his recent Comic Con experience, he admits that the doctor likes being “this doctor”. He says that the character, as well as himself, is reaching against the “dying of the light” where “the bell is tolling for him and he doesn’t want to go quietly”. Tennant agrees that it is exciting handing over the show in good health but that keeping it on with him, in the long term, was uncertain. With a future including two films and “Hamlet” for the BBC, his plate is hardly empty.
“Occupation”, another BBC series [this one shot in Morocco] takes into the strike zone the aspect of the war in the Middle East from the British perspective. Pete Bowker, the writer, says that the way the characters approach the war is key. Having a pint or a coffee becomes a major event. He relates a moment when a soldier told him that the only way his family would let him become a nurse is if he did it in the army. Another anecote came from another soldier telling him how they would clear a building. The humor came from the aspect of sticking your head around the corner and seeing if someone blows it off.
“Being Human”, by comparison, takes a middle ground between the two series, because of its inherent supernatural elements. Toby Whithouse, creator of the series, emphasizes the fact that, in reality, we don’t live in a genre. A person can have a normal conversation but it doesn’t mean that something tragic isn’t going on. In a matter of perspective, sometimes the relativity gives you more free range to work in because you can tell a massive and a personal story at the same time which allows you to look at the community in a distinctly different way. He says the stablizing factor is to maintain order in the house which he jokingly says he does by constantly making tea.