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Cougars, Witches & Aliens: The 2009 ABC TCA Summer Press Tour – Feature – Part II

The second part of ABC’s summer press tour is even more dramatically scripted than the first which was highlighted by the season’s rookie to beat. But with a Jerry Bruckheimer drama starring Christian Slater, a “Witches Of Eastwick” update, a series remake of “V” and a new Courteney Cox-black comedy entitled “Cougar Town”, ABC is betting the farm on a variety of interesting but at times risky propositions.

Executive Session: Stephen McPherson (President/ABC Entertainment) The first question posed to McPherson was the inherent bear of the tour which was the perception of Jay Leno’s 10pm show in contradiction to scripted late prime shows. The exec responded that NBC is in transition and they (at ABC) are waiting to see what the prime time move in terms of effectiveness turns out to be. He plans to compete for the viewers as his mandate is to make the broadcast element of his company vibrant. He believes in terms of series that ABC has to remain ambitious. He says projects like “Lost” have been very fortuitous for them but states that you have to look at each show differently. “Flash Forward” he agrees needs to have that cinematic feeling. He says that there is alot of great drama out there and sees the 10pm hour as a major opportunity in the current marketplace.

In terms of some other new shows at ABC, he speaks that when he heard that Warners was going out with a TV take on “The Witches Of Eastwick”, he thought it was a great fun way to do a female driven series. Rebecca Romijn was such a trooper going back to work. He makes the joke that she was doing the role an hour and a half after having her twins.

In terms of some shows getting the axe, he says that those decisions are among the biggest challenges in determining how patient you can be. Sometimes it has to do with how it affects your schedule. For others (he cites “Pushing Daisies”) the writer’s strike derailed them.

Other shows by comparison are making their way from other networks, “Scrubs” will still be called “Scrubs” but it will be different in its construct in terms of the hospital versus teaching. McPherson adds that Zach Braff will be back but for a limited amount of time.

In terms of the thought of possibly bringing Paula Abdul into the fray of “America’s Got Talent” after her sudden and supposed break from “American Idol”, McPherson said that he was stunned and actually had already put in a call to her. His quote: “We’d love to get a piece of that.”

Questioned about the lack of movie of the week and/or miniseries product which used to be a mainstay of ABC, McPherson says that there is a very specific business model for those types of projects which they have looked at but just doesn’t fit the marketplace right now. However he said he would love for it to be a business again for them.

Coming back to the NBC/Leno move, McPherson thinks it was a decision of cost containment versus what it can do for the network or the studio. He doesn’t think anyone believes that Leno could do a 5 rating in that time slot but he believes a drama series could.

The series that could do it in fact could possibly be “Flash Forward” though McPherson doesn’t state this. He does say however that he would like to have some of the success that “Lost” has had with this new show. “Flash Forward” he said was a spec that Goyer and his team had done for HBO. ABC he says wasn’t trailing for a series like this but agrees that there are similarities in terms of the epic nature of the canvas and that of “Lost”. However he believes that as “Flash Forward” evolves, the two series will be seen very differently.

McPherson says that the current next season comedy push on ABC with “Hank” and “Modern Family” was a conscious decision. He also states that “Romantically Challenged” will be back midseason possibly in a block with “Scrubs” and “Better Off Ted”. He also admits they did cut budgets as is the norm right now.

He said there was some success with “Samantha Who” but the series never gained full traction. “Ugly Betty” is still going strong and was never cancelled. He says that there are still great plans for it and that it will stay in NY in terms of shooting for at least another year. In terms of “Grey’s Anatomy”, Katherine Heigl is back while he confirms that TR Knight has left. Ellen Pompeo will be out for a couple episodes while she is having her baby.

McPherson does think Shonda (the show runner on “Grey’s” and “Private Practice”) has hit her stride. He says the creative direction of “Practice” at the end of last year was a good lesson for him as an executive because he wasn’t sure if the angle was going to work. He says though that Shonda pulled it off.

In thought of “Better Off Ted” (another severely underrated show with bite), McPherson says that summer was tough in general. He says that they have tabled a couple episodes of that series but would have liked a better performance from it. TV, of course, is not an easy game.

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The Forgotten This series on a group of people who track down missing persons works a little differently than most Jerry Bruckheimer TV vehicles. While it is still forensic and procedural in nature, the characters in it, save for one, have day jobs.

Bruckheimer admits he loves mystery. Audiences, he believes, are enamoured with crimes and the solving of them. In terms of this series, it is about someone coming in and being a White Knight to these people who have lost someone. Christian Slater wasn’t in the original pilot and actually was a late addition to the cast.

Jerry jokes that they couldn’t find Slater at the beginning because he was somewhere in Russia (presumably Jerry making reference to Slater’s now defunct NBC Show “My Own Worst Enemy”). Bruckheimer’s thought is that Slater brings “versimilitude” to the series.

Slater, for his part, said that he enjoyed his time on “My Own Worst Enemy” but wasn’t thinking about going back into TV right away. He half jokingly says that the deal came together in a locker room. His agent and Bruckheimer play on opposing teams in Bruckheimer’s famous industry insider hockey league which is how the conversation started. Slater was interested in mystery in terms of form as he had started a year before reading three chapters a night of “Nancy Drew” to his daughter who influenced him with her excitement. That was initially the angle that he loved about “My Own Worst Enemy” because that was about a guy who was very human who had some phenomenally extraordinary experiences.

Exec Producer Marc Friedman says that the group of people in the series are amateurs in terms of their characters. Their focus is finding these people who have been lost. Fellow exec producer Jonathan Littman says that the show fulfills the same perspective as alot of crime dramas in that there needs to be closure.

Rochelle Aytes, who plays Detective Grace, offers an angled perspective of the team, saying that she is the closer for the Jane Does and is tough and passionate but she also keeps Alex (Christian Slater’s character) from going downhill which indicates some interesting emotional challenges for the actor.

Danny Cannon (who directed the action film “Judge Dredd” and serves as one of the directors on the show as well as an exec producer) says what interested him in terms of the style of the show was being able to show “death backwards”. For him the visual motif needed to have a spiritual structure in terms of seeing death through the eyes of these people and then, by contrast, a godlike element encroaching on the invesigators through these missing persons. If even a bit of what Cannon described can be created or filmed (and it is a possibility considering the achievements of CSI), this film could be Bruckheimer’s next big hit.

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Cougar Town The title of this series gets you off the bat especially since Courteney Cox is in it. She showed in the FX series “Dirt” that she was willing to go the distance for the jugular if need be. The woman had no fear. Matching her with Bill Lawrence, the cool and ultimately outspoken exec producer on both this and “Scrubs”, is a grand time waiting to happen since Lawrence seems game for anything. He is a young exec at barely over 40 and still has that great enthusiasm and balls out approach which can translate into fascinating TV.

Lawrence starts off saying that we are still in a sexist and misogynistic society and that a series like “Cougar Town” has the possibility of alot of traps. The assumption is that the show would be written by guys but, in actuality, this one has a majority of female writers which he is very proud of. He jokes that they titled the show this way so they could set the bar low. He also says that in life he has heard both sides of the female perspective of the word, whether it be one of empowerment or not.

He admits he and his wife (who plays one of Courteney’s friends in the series) are in their 40s as is Courteney (you can see Courteney wince). The hardest angle of network television in the current marketplace for Bill is making noise. If you do so people will be aware of the show. All you can do then is cross your fingers and see with the subsequent scripts if it is a show that works. He says that the age range between Courteney and her son on the show is respective to him and his father in real life as they are only separated by 20 years. The key to the proceedings with these kind of relationships is that Courteney can play discomfort exceedingly well.

Lawrence admits that he likes shows like “True Blood” and jokes that he enjoys watching the vampires’ orgies of blood. However the key with television in any shape is that you shouldn’t walk on the edge just for the sake of it. “Cougar Town” will be aired in a 9:30 timeslot and will have a warning on it. But, for him, it is truly about a character going after the world.

Seemingly a little nervous, Lawrence says that he rarely has this much trepidation with a show but that he doesn’t want to fail Courteney. He was inspired by his wife in the gestation of some elements of the series, specifically in the pilot. His wife, now sitting only a couple feet from him, had just had their baby when the idea started to formulate. She was passing through the bathroom going to the shower and stopped and looked at herself in the mirror. She simply said “Fuck”. That is such a clear and present concept for the idea, even though Lawrence’s wife did seem a little embarrassed by his admission and telling of the story.

Lawrence continues that the zeitgeist would be to show something so age inappropriate. Courteney’s character in the series says that “the bummer about being single at 40 is that al the men are broke, gay or dating younger girls”. For Lawrence it was essential to create two characters as romantic leads in the series who had chemistry but had no interest in being together as a result of their recent divorces. Lawrence whispers like a ventriloquist to goad Cox about possibly having Jennifer Aniston guest on the show. Cox jokes that she doesn’t discount it.

Lawrence also addresses, as is the norm this year, the aspect of NBC and the Leno influx into the 10pm slot since “Scrubs” was originally on that network. First and foremost, Bill comments: “Ben [Silverman] is not trying to destroy television …someone else is.” He follows up saying that “it is sad for scripted TV but they [NBC] has created this onorous situation.”

He then speaks to the new slate at ABC saying he wants more forward thinking which is apparent at this network. He thinks “Modern Family” is a kick ass sitcom and both “Flash Forward” and “Eastwick” are good shows. He says good TV is all about execution. He knows he is good at this and Courteney is good at this but nowadays there is a limited window to make a splash. He will market the show as much as possible. He even jokes that he will go get a tattoo on his chest for “Cougar Town” and suggests that we go to the bar right now. Lawrence is a force of nature and his enthusiasm is infectious.

Courteney Cox, by comparison, barely gets in a word since Lawrence by design is this hurricane of enthusiasm. Lawrence had said that Cox doesn’t use a body double for her introduction scenes in the pilot. Cox, by contrast, makes the point that people don’t look on TV the way they look in real life. In terms of the actual word “cougar”, she says that it would be a great term if we knew the term for a man doing the same thing. A shout comes out from inside the room: “a man” (which gets a roar of laughter from everyone).

Cox says that ‘Cougar Town” is not Samantha from “Sex & The City”. She wanted to get back to comedy. She recalls being 40 and laying in bed with Coco (her daughter with husband David Arquette) right after she was born. She jokes “Should I give this [the baby] back to someone?” She says that getting older is harder anyway and says “it would be really scary if I wasn’t married”. She also mentions that Aniston is making a movie called “Pumas”. The joke that ends the panel is that a “puma” is a cougar in her 30s. And the laughs keep on coming.

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Eastwick Doing a TV update of the classic movie from 1987 is fraught with either possibility or challenge depending on how it is done. The aspects here are workable but not quite focused yet. The show runner hints at some crossover, hints to the mythology and also the casting of original cast member Veronica Cartwright as a mystery character.

Maggie Friedman, the show runner, specifies that they wanted to appeal to both the female and the male demographic but that they didn’t want to copycat “Desperate Housewives” but still would like some of their viewership. She pays reverence to the original movie starring Jack Nicholson as “iconic” but says that it was very much of its time. The characters here are quite different.

In the 1987 movie, the magic of the female characters are very efemeral according to Maggie. Here, by contrast, there is a very specific reason for each woman’s powers. Veronica Cartwright, who played a different character in the original movie, is back as a different character who may or may not be a former witch. Friedman says she loves Veronica’s scream which got a lot of wear and tear in the first “Alien” movie as well.

The town of Eastwick was rebuilt on the Warner Ranch in Burbank, just blocks away from the lot with Maria Caso doing the production design. For Maggie, she has the storylines planned out in tandem. The first year plan addresses the theme of empowerment but follows the structure of Darryl (that horny little devil) coming in and seducing the women and the town. There will most certainly be winks and homages to the film she promises. Maggie teases that the character that Cartwright plays might in fact be one of the witches from the 80s since it is the same town and 20 years have passed. Maybe Darryl was actually in this Eastwick in a different form back then. For her, it is all about metaphors.

Maggie also teases that Cybill Shepherd might play one of the other witches from back then as well. But it all has to have motivation. An example she uses in terms of the magic crossed with the character structure is that Joanna can hypnotize other people. This keys into the aspect that her character’s true nature is shy and quiet and needs to learn to stand up for herself. This magic allows her to do. It is like it knows what she wants which for them is their allure to Darryl. The unspoken truth is that Darryl needs them infinitely more than they need him but they need to be able to harness their power.

Maggie addresses the input of John Updike, the original author of the book, who she was able to speak to before he died. He however knew that the concept was being made into a TV show. The writing staff, like “Cougar Town” is distinctly mixed, with six women to six men which should allow for an interesting dichotomy of stories. Maggie believes that the show will definitely appeal to men since Darryl is living a fantasy.

For his part as Darryl, the devil, Paul Cross chose this as his first part in an American show after much time overseas. He is seemingly suited to the task. Like Pierce Brosnan was to Sean Connery in Bond so is Paul to Jack in this role. Cross admits that there are many kinds of devils but keys in with a bit of fun that “my powers are limitless” which means he can do anything. He has got a little bit of flack about his hair but they found a balance, a small price to pay.

In terms of being compared or playing Jack, he says Jack is “like Mount Rushmore” and there is no comparison. You can’t climb that kind of performance but Paul thought he could bring something slightly different to this part and could really do something with it. And he saw the upside: His character knows everything. His character runs the world. He gets to work with amazingly beautiful women. Plus he had no idea how he was going to do it. Sounds like a plan.

The girls by contrast saw a degree of clarity within their ambitions.

Rebecca Romijn, who recently had twins with husband Jerry O’Connell, jumped into the fray 8 weeks after she delivered as the character of Roxie. Like Demi Moore in “’Indecent Proposal”, this coud be a real boon to the part since it adds another texture that could be quite interesting. The twins were on set with her most of the time. Now O’Connell is taking some time off to be with them while Rebecca is working on this. She says the part by design is a bit of a double edged sword. She takes on the Cher role in her mind in terms of the coven of witches. She was a big fan of the movie when it came out since she was a teenager. She distinctifies that this character is the closest to her real personality that she has ever played.

The other two witches also have distinctiveness and perception to who their witches are and what they will become. Lindsay Price, who plays Joanna, also agrees that this character is very close to her own personality. In playing the Susan Sarandon role in glasses and a bun, she admits to her own awkwardness, even though in front of me she looks like a stunner. And, on screen, she is even more alluring like one of teachers in Van Halen’s “Hot For Teacher” video.

Jamie Ray Newman, by comparison, says her character Kat (the Michelle Pfieffer role) went from being a teenager to a mom and is in denial of her powers even though hers is the most dynamic visually. Kat is a character that loves safety and security and her new situation flies in the face of everything she believes because the devil made her do it.

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V There had been talk for many years of the retelling of this 80s miniseries into a full fledged series. What seemed to make the gelling finally click was the critical success of “Battlestar Galactica” which took the different themes of terrorism and placed them in a sci-fi conundrum. “V” does the same thing in many ways. Another parallel is that Zoic Studios who did a lot of the FX work on “Galactica” in their early seasons is working on this as well. The first announcement which made the cast distinctly earnest was the fact that they premiere November 3rd at 8pm.

Exec producer Scott Peters (who worked on “The 4400”) said that in moving forward they didn’t want to stop the original themes in addition with blending the modern elements of a post 9/11 world. Because of the writers’ strike, the show was developed over a long period of time. The key became apparent in the news of everyday where people were searching for change.

The sell of the show began to be “What if aliens showed up and could solve all our problems?” The key is that in that these kind of shows, idealogy needs to remain open to interpretation. He says that they are very sure of where the storylines are going for the first and second seasons as well as where the end lies. They did meet with Kenneth Johnson (the miniseries creator) but admitted that this is a brand new take.

In terms of effects, they are approaching the interior of the ship with virtual world technology which allows the camera to move around within the space while making every angle and perspective different. This, Peters hopes, wows the audience on a weekly basis since they will be visiting the ships in every episode. However, he does admit that they are shooting in Vancouver and not NY but believes that the difference will not be noticable.

Elizabeth Mitchell, best known as Juliet on “Lost”, was intrigued by her character Erica on “V”. She likes traditional heroes and had never gotten to play one before. She says that she was on a panel with Sigourney Weaver a while back who had said that she always in these sorts of pictures picks the men’s roles. Mitchell had watched the original in the 80s as well. In perspective to “Lost”, she says that she is going back to shoot in Hawaii but cannot say if she is dead or alive considering what happened in the final moment of last season.

Morena Baccarin plays Anna, the smooth and elegant alien who is able to disarm the human race. There is something otherworldly about her. Baccarin says it is about being the face of what people want to see. She jokes that she did some research on being an alien but there is not much out there. The one thing in Anna she does see is the angle of her ambition.

In conclusion, exec producer Jeffrey Bell examines some of the elements that die hards might be looking for. He says when they talk to people, they hear about the rat and guinea pig moments with the lizards in the original miniseries. He agrees that they would be “morons” not to put those moments in but he also empahasizes that the agenda for the Vs is not what it was before.

By the end of the first season, the audience will have a full conception of the V’s agenda. Bell says they want to keep the stories within the character’s grounded lives. It is about freezing those frames of the emotional turmoil but also keying within the wish fulfillment element of it.

ABC Cocktail Party Within the Viennese Ballroom, the sushi became the mood enhancer. Talking off-the-cuff with Maggie Friedman who runs “Eastwick”, she says that they are going to push the limit and get a little bawdy with some of the stories. The story structures of these elements are coming into play. She makes reference to a vibrator subplot that runs through an episode mid-season that really highlights the humor which is so necessary to a series like this. At this point, Paul Cross, ever playing the part as Darryl, walks over with a scotch in hand. He relishes the role and gets to be naughty. Maggie reinforces the element of wish fulfillment in “Eastwick” that will appeal to both male and female viewers.

Outside, after stealing a gliding glance from V’s Morena Baccarin walking to the bar, “V” show runner Scott Peters talks about the essence of darkness within this incarnation of the show and why that balance will heighten the experience. HYe says they start shooting that following Monday in Vancouver first tweaking the pilot with some pick-ups before they start in on the new episodes. Mentioning Morena (whom I had just passed), Peters agrees that it is that kind of connection that will motivate the show. Tone, of course, in mentioning to him, is important. He says the writing staff reflects this with a couple people from 4400 but also some new blood. Score is also mentioned which is crucial. Peters says that they have hired Marco Beltrami who recently did “3:10 To Yuma” for that important task.

Heading inside towards the sushi bar, Nathan Fillion saunters to the bar, ever in his Castle role relishing the moment, while Stana Katic, who plays Detective Beckett, sits in the corner with her girlfriends conversing in a beautiful red dress which her character would scarsely be caught in at this point in the series.

The last interaction of the night was a welcome one in the form of the entire central cast of “Better Off Ted”, one of the best new underrated shows of the season. Lead actor Jay Harrington (who plays Ted), there with his girlfriend Adriana reminds one of the mainstream version of Don Draper but with infinitely more humor. He admits that at the beginning it was hard talking to camera because the 4th wall can be a finicky thing. I say though that the charm and chemistry between him and his co-star Andrea Anders who plays Linda is palpable. Andrea sanders over in a stunning backless dress but with a shy awkwardness that befits her character. Oddly enough the person I thought was Andrea’s publicist is actually Jonathan Slavin, who plays one of the scientists Phil. The transformation helped by make-up and some good acting chops is quite staggering. The other part of the duo: Malcolm Barrett (who plays Lem) comes over with a bit of stubble. Their real life personalities are so decidely different that you see the almost illicit balance that the show creates. From these four you can feel a family as they hang out and talk with me near the sushi bar.

Harrington says that they are going back to start shooting new episodes the following Monday which seems like a busy day for a lot of people. “Better Off Ted” deserves support (which I tell them) because the writing is sharp which they utterly appreciate. It is just a matter of steadying the course.

The essence of ABC continuing through this new fall season is one of interest and risk in storytelling but nonetheless one with major potential.

Family, Sharks & Flashes: The 2009 ABC TCA Summer Press Tour – Feature – Part I

With a slate that is very rich is the balance of drama versus comedy, ABC is making their way through the aspect of the Leno landscape with a determination of ease and poise. Looking at their upcoming slate, the essential building blocks for many successful seasons begin to take shape simply for the essence of testing the waters.

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Modern Family This comedy, unlike series co-star Ed O’Neill’s previous family outing, takes its cue from the mockumentary format but more Christopher Guest than “The Office”. It follows three interconecting groups of the same family, all with their little quirks and idiosyncracies. Exec Producer Steve Levitan says that the essence of the show is within the paradox. There are actually fathers now to young daughters that are in their 70s which makes it probably pretty hard to keep up. Ed O’Neill, Al Bundy forever, (who plays the said father of sorts) says that this show is an entirely different thing from “Children”. He also speaks of his recent dramatic work like “Dragnet” which he says was fun but alot of work.

This series by its design is much more ensemble plus it’s a comedy. He sardonically says with a smile that his wife in this show is pretty much the same as the last one (in this one he is married to a hot young Latina woman). He says jokingly that he is older than his new co-star but also fairly deadpan that he was older than Katey [Segal] (who played Peggy Bundy). He admits that here he is completely in over his head and just trying to keep up.

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Shark Tank After we had met Mark Burnett on ABC’s set visit the day before he jetted off for “Survivor”, he spoke of the interesting dynamic of the sharks in “Shark Tank” in the fact that these people are participating in the show with their own money (not ABC’s or his). As a result, they have something perssonally on the line. Seeing them in front of you and their very obvious and strong personalities, you see what some of the contestants are up against.

Kevin Harrington, the first of the sharks, says that the first step that was essential in the process was that Burnett’s people looked at thousands and thousands of products to get it to these final few so they are the cream of the crop. Due dilligence was taken which was very important to them.

Robert Herjavec, the seeming conscience of the group, says the excitement for an young entrepreneur is infectious in this new digital era. The bar though, in his mind now, is higher since these people can’t get money from the bank because of the current economic crisis. Success is all forward momentum. Herjavec says that the reason we are in the crisis we are in now is because the rich people were risking money that was not their own. This country was built by small business but he believes that it is the blind pursuit of pure greed that got us to where we are today.

Kevin O’Leary, the admitted cruelest shark in the group, says that the only reason you give people money is to make yourself more money. All the rest is crap, in his words. He says that liquidity is very hard to come by and you want that idea to get to cash sooner. Greed for him is freedom and provides financial flexibility. Greed is powerful and important pure and simple. Herjavec comes back at him and says that “the big guy in the sky is going to get a big spatula and whack you with it”. He says that greed is not the point to it all. O’Leary tells Herjavec that he is “absolutely wrong”.

Daymond John, a shark who made his fortune in fashion, says that after the lights come up after this show, there will be alot of work for them afterwards. He says that he will probably lose money on half the deals he made on this show but, in that shark room, you get a lipnus test of what reality is. To Kevin O’Leary’s perception of greed, he retorts that the people in jail still want more money too.

Hank Kelsey Grammer returns to television after his bout with health problems and the cancellation of “Back To You” with a significantly optimistic comedy of life. The story behind this sitcom is a man who took a fall financially who moves back to his hometown with his family after a life of luxury is taken away from him due to the current financial crisis.

Kelsey compares his character in “Hank” to that of “Back To You” in saying that the latter was a lothario whereas his character here (Hank) is blissfully ignorant about the task of being real. In his mind, Hank sacrificed his parachute of luxury (since it was his company that got sunk) in order to make other people have something instead of nothing. He helped make them whole and took responsibility for the downfall of his company. He says that the boon of this show is that one of the greatest human characteristics is the ability to laugh at certain situations.

Kelsey also detailed the timeline of what happened from here to there in terms of his trajectory from his last show to this one. He says that he started “Back To You” where he enjoyed working with Patricia Heaton tremendously. Fox hired Jim Reilly who had originally turned down the pitch from Kelsey at NBC. Then the writer’s strike began. This, he says sarcastically, pre-empted the recession on themselves in advance. From this point onward there was very little ability for Fox to have a sense of commitment to the show. There was also, he says, building tension between him and Reilly. Then off he went. And then the heart attack happened.

After he recovered, Kelsey thought about the fact that there wasnt really a traditional family show on television. He was pitched one other concept about a successful man who was after teenage women which he didnt think was quite right at the time. Kelsey, in encompassing his thought, wants to lend himself to this character like he did to Frasier. Frasier liked clutter like Hanks loves sports. Hank is not pompous. He loves the American Dream and the aspect of working back up from the bottom. He is just out of touch with some things. Grammer uses an example from his own life that mirrors Hank. He says that he was trying to make a cup of coffee with three friends one morning and they couldn’t figure it out. Hank probably has the same problem because in his world, coffee was always brought to him. He wouldnt have done that task in years.

In terms of his heart attack, Kelsey says that there is obviously a connection to one’s life and the stresses that are involved. The doctors had told him, in his own words, that the heart attack was stress related. He jokes that it was time for him to get retooled. He now chuckles that he is somewhat bionic.

In the show he jokes that he wants to take his character in a baking direction as well. He says with a laugh that people seem to think he can play rich obviously because he is so “damn sophisticated”.

In terms of the business of TV itself, with introspection on departures like the one of Ben Silverman at NBC, Grammer’s thought is that executives always change. One of things that many people don’t know is that Kelsey is a producer on “Medium”. With that show, he and his partners had sold it to NBC. Grammer then speaks of another executive (Les Moonves at CBS), “being the selfless egoless man he is” (according to Kelsey), who, because the show was made by CBS but picked up at NBC, used it as a rallying point on the quality of shows at NBC. Grammer said that Moonves (whom he had pitched the show to unsuccessfully) spent the next five years trying to make something similar to “Medium” that was good. The press release for “Medium” next season on CBS points to the fact that, according to Kelsey, “Medium” is a spin-off of “Ghost Whisperer” (which he says Les made to be like their show). He jokes that this was “a bit disingenious” of Moonves.

Tucker Cawley, the exec producer of the show, provides more basic structure comments in terms of “Hank” saying that the scripts will touch on this “riches to rags” situation. Hank. as played by Kelsey, doesn’t see his new home as being less. He instead reserves a bit of American optimism. Hank still had a nest egg of sorts so he doesn’t have to worry about making ends meet. The character started with nothing and now sees himself as simply down but coming back up. The stories will also address the downsizing of a lifestyle and how Hank comes to see his family and himself in a different way.

Hank believes that he is destined to return to greatness and he will. It just won’t be the “greatest” like he imagined. Cawley just wants to make sure there is a hopefulness to the show. They have only shot one episode post pilot so now it is simply a question of what Hank is going to do. Melinda McGraw, who plays Hank’s wife, follows up in wonderful spouse fashion saying “Redemption is a rocky road. We [Hank and his family] are creatures of habit…and those habits are nice.”

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Flash Forward This new series which was gotten a significant amount of buzz off its supposed tie-in with “Lost” is a creature of a different sort as discussed in this review. However after viewing it before the panel, the mythology and cinematic story structure do create a comparison in addition to the inclusion of two “Lost” veterans in the cast in the form of Dominic Monaghan (“Charlie”) and Sonya Walger (“Penny”).

David Goyer, most recently lauded because of his work on “Batman Begins” and “The Dark Knight”, is the creator and exec producer of the show along with his wife Jessika. To the inevitable mythology base and story structure, he says that they have the story progression to go three seasons for sure. He came across the novel “Sawyer” [another coincidental “Lost” reference] through Jessika who was working in development for him at the time. The novel addresses the concept of what would you do if you know where your choices led you.

Goyer speaks of the “Lost” connection as he is “pretty good friends” with Damon Lindelof [who runs “Lost” with Carlton Cuse]. He is a big fan and the way that show connected with fans proved to Goyer that there was a place for shows like that. Lindelof told Goyer that ABC was very supportive of their vision and to the fact that you could maintain a show with such a large ensemble. “Lost”, in Goyer’s mind, traffics a lot in shades of grey which is one of its strengths. Lindelof told him in making this new show to “stick to your game…and your guns”.

But Goyer doesn’t think that the lessons of “Lost” are applicable to “Flash Forward”. He is first and foremost a fan of story (which seems at least similar on the surface to the other show). He explains that the base concept of the “Sawyer” book involves particle physicists at CERN in Switzerland which gives a hint to the aspect of where the genesis of “Flash Forward” is based. They took that premise and truncated it. He does allude that the author of the book will write an episode in the show’s first season.

For those with a love of details (and easter eggs for that matter). there is a kangaroo (idealogy anyone?) in the first episode which will return more than once over the series. Goyer jokes that “the kangaroo is the thing…people like the kangaroo”. He reserves the point though that kangaroos are not very easy to train as they have learned to his dismay. He does promise that the bouncy critter will return in Episode 6.

The psychological basis for the event portrayed in the show comes from Goyer’s observation of other countries in the world following 9/11. He says he experienced an enormous outpouring of sympathy in Paris (as he was there right after the attacks) from the French. He says he is trying to capture a little bit of that feeling in this show since the event portrayed here is something that everyone on the planet experiences. He also teases that there is a reason why some of the characters are looking at the calendar in their flash forwards (which are quickly explained in the pilot).

Goyer says that “the razor’s edge” is what the show traffics in. He says that he believes people flock to drama because of conflict whether it be responsibility or infidelity. It is about the progression of A to B to C. He said that they made the decision very early on to not tell the actors where they are going in terms of story. He says that they have to “titrate” certain information out in order to give the semblance of continuity in the characters. He says that Hitchcock would do that with some of the actors he worked with as well.

To that point, Goyer says that this point is written into all the actors’ contracts in the aspect that they don’t have to reveal story details. In terms of scripts, he says they have alot of them in the bank. They have written up to script 11 and had 7 done before they even started shooting the pilot.

Changing the future which is a crucial part of the story in the series is, according to Goyer, half the mystery. The characters in the series break down into three specific categories: fearful, hopeful and agnostic. In terms of the treatment of the “flash forwards”, whatever the characters were feeling emotionally at the time it happened was real to them, which he says specifically relates to the lead character, played by Joseph Fiennes. Goyer hopes people will tune in for how these people wrestle with these issues.

Jessika Goyer, speaking of the gestation of the series from her point of view, says that when he was talking to David initially about it, she could tell the idea was spinning in his brain. David went to Brannon Braga (a veteran of “Star Trek”) and found a way to make the story work. In the book, according to Jessika, the flash forward is 21 years into the future which is different from the actual series. The show address thematically, in her mind, what people can do to change their lives. Her hope is that alot of these questions will help alter and shape the audience’s perception.

Marc Guggenheim, another exec on the show, reveals that by the end of the first season they will get to a fateful day in April 2010 which is alluded to in the pilot. He makes the joke that if the show doesn’t work, they will be back next year with a show about wacky particle physicists (making reference to the book’s original concept). He says the date referenced in the pilot is one of significance in the show and is actually a date they are airing on: a Thursday to be exact. For him the show is about the resillience of humanity but the challenge is how you capture that moment.

Dominic Monaghan, a wild card in the buzz over this series, does not reveal who his character is but speaks to the zeitgeist noting that there are similarities to “Flash Forward” in “Lost” in terms of its large ensemble cast and ambitious storyline. He also speaks to the fact that with a cast that is similar in many ways (to “Lost”) in addition to a globally connected storyline, it is easier to sell the series internationally (which is very important overall in terms of resell value). “Flash Forward” he says is as deeply rooted in a mythology that needs to be solved as “Lost” but adds that it is more simplistic. He says that he was in Hawaii (where they shoot “Lost”) when he read the pilot for “Flash Forward”.

He jokes half seriously that he didnt want to take parts away from Americans (then he realizes what he said looking across the room at Englishman Joseph Fiennes). David and Jessika asked him to meet. It was a bar on Sunset called Delanceys where Dom had a pint of Boddingtons. He said it was one of those special meetings but that the most important thing for him was to do something completely different from Charlie on “Lost”. Goyer said he had just the part for him. After that, Dom again half jokes that it was just about agreeing on money.

Joseph Fiennes, who takes the brunt of the series on his shoulders much like Matthew Fox’s Jack on “Lost”, says that it is “David’s fault” that he is on the series. He says that TV is the medium for writers which is what interested him about the project. There is a large conflict here with the characters and great room for them to grow. He says that within this structure you are not as much a slave to the three act structure. Things are not set in stone. And what you are not told (as is a specific exercise of this show in terms of the agreement he had to take on as an actor) you “can embrace the future as you saw” it. Or he warns “you can also embrace a strategy where [your actions] become a self fulfilling prophecy. He also admits that it was a way to get out of a flouncy shirt and put “a gun on my belt”

“Flash Forward” has the most buzz of any show heading into this season but it is just a matter if it can maintain the drama with the sense of wonder without becoming too vague. This is its challenge but, after seeing the pilot, the potential is strong.

The essence of Part II of the ABC Summer 2009 TCA Summer Press Tour continues next.

Flash Forward – ABC – TCA Advance TV Review

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The realization of “Flash Forward”, as it was screened at the ABC TCA Press Tour, was the fact that the essence of what has been discussed: a successor to “Lost” in intention of the mythology is there on a basic level. Unlike that earlier incarnation which had the ability of coming out from nowhere, this series has to deal with the criticism of being compared, notwithstanding the fact that two of its actors, most specifically Dominic Monaghan, were or are characters on the aforementioned show (Sonya Walger plays Penny).

This show begins with a bang in actuality and very nicely sets up the premise much like the plane crash but in a much broader sense. Most people don’t remember that when “Lost” started, there was a lot of exposition that took some people time to integrate. There was a bit of impatience and catch up involved in that for some of the audience.

This series has the ability and maybe the weakness to become much more dense because of the breathe of the event portrayed in the pilot. The question is the balance between intimate and epic. From the beginning moments when Joseph Fiennes’ character Mark is running through traffic in the aftermath of said event, you get that feeling of confusion and the immediate influx of questions.

The key to the pilot and the cause of discussions is the “flash forwards” which have the date of April 29, 2010. Everybody sees this specific time part of the future and the key is how do they get to that point, and more importantly can it be changed or do they want it to change. Like “Lost” the beauty here works in the inherent flaws of the characters where they don’t want to give away or even say the real truth and, in addition, neither do the writers. It is great because (again like “Lost”) it places the audience in the know slightly more than the characters. This gives the ability to keep the material really fresh but a balance needs to maintained.

There is definitely a cinematic element as the moment of this “blackout” happens. The mythology does play as the epilogue alludes to with a reveal that is much more mystery than answer. There are multiple characters throughout (including a cameo by uber-animator Seth McFarlane) although the focus revolves around Mark, an FBI agent (Fiennes), and his wife Olivia, a ssurgeon, played by Walger. In all, the pilot teases enough and keys into that sense of wonder and darkness that makes the show it will be undeniably compared to a valid companion.

While it is always hard to take away the aspect of one episode, much less one told in one hour as compared to the two hour running time of the premiere of “Lost”, “Flash Forward” does possess many of the great qualities needed for a show like this to succeed. The only drawback in some of the episode was the lead back nature of some of the matter-of-fact dialogue. However when the aspects of witholding information begin to take place (again like most of the characters eventually on “Lost”), the feeling of the show takes on a subversive but ultimately emotional (but not saccarine undertone).

“Flash Forward” is a cinematic possibility that shows ABC recognizes the ability of this range of show as evidenced in many parts of this pilot. When the moment of the blackout jump cuts you into oblivion, you are there for the ride. It is just a matter of being kept strapped in.

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