The alignment between the transcendence of real and the modulation of the self continues to show its penchant revolving into the 2012 TCA Summer Press Tour for Fox Television as the engagement of re-emerging ideas as well as mind altering new ones forms the structure for either engaging television or vivid entanglements.
Starting within the reality purveyance of the world, the build up of “The X Factor” judge panel with the inclusion of Britney Spears offers the hope for spellbinding TV (or, at least, deer-in-the-headlights mayhem). Appearing via satellite from Miami where they are currently judging the next round of possibilities, the tension and energy seemed fruitful, if not a little unstable.
Spears, for her part, seems relatively focused and positive yet understandably reserved and restrained. She speaks that “I think that this show has been very good for me to do” because “I can relate to them [the contestants]” connecting that “I know the foundation and depth you go through”. Her instincts are “based on who I am and my personality”. One angle people might not know is “I am a huge fan of hip hop” but “I like cabaret music and bands [as well]”. In terms of the reality of “making it”, she explains that “in this industry, there are so many auditions” and “it is the way” but “having done 8 tours, this is different than anything I have ever done”.
For Simon Cowell, as the brawn behind the might, he explains that he “was fascinated by her [Britney] as a person and as a pop star” and “thought it would be interesting to put on this show”. By contrast, he says that “Demi [Lovato, another judge] is a brat but there is something about her”. In terms of structure, Cowell says “you are going to see some changes editorially” from last season. He admits that “there is an awful lot of competition that we have to fight against this year” but “I brought this show to America because I think the best singers in the world are here”. Examining pushing himself for excellence, he says “I put myself under a great amount of pressure” but “this is on a little of an upscale of the thing”. Commenting on the possibility of Mariah Carey on his previous show “American Idol”, he simply says “I think she will find it difficult to say no”. As to his impression of Britney’s judging, he says “she is as sweet as a lemon” but then addressing the departure of previous “X-Factor” judges says that “no one has job security anymore, [not] even myself”.
Demi Lovato, reacting with intensity to Cowell’s jabs, says that “any little bit of criticism hurts when you are growing up.” She remembers “when I was auditioning for things and I was dropped, it would hurt me” but “you can’t prevent anybody from going down the wrong road” though “fame makes the problem a little worse”.
Swirling within his own private empire, much like Martha Stewart, Chef Gordon Ramsay expands his domain with “Hotel Hell” where he helps provide new perspective within the texture of the bigger picture that surrounds his restaurants and, by extension, hotel service. He initially offers that “we have had good and bad experiences, like with ‘Kitchen Nightmares'” but believes that “we don’t book or banter on the hotels”. The idea of this show was “the next extension”. In terms of his presupposed omnipresence in the media landscape, he explains “I pace myself” but “the appetite’s there” and “I work for a living”. Implementing his work ethic, Ramsay says “if you are that talented and that determined to do something, all is well”. The focus with him starts with the fact that “I was dealt a dysfunctional card when I got into the industry” which reflects in his current propensity to that “when you undermined the customer and [take] shortcuts in hygiene”, all is not well. Reflecting on the rage that seems to be his persona, Ramsay retorts “I think it is misconstrued at times. [I think] it is passion. It is what I know” and “deep down inside, I don’t know any better.” His advice to patrons worldwide (but especially in the US): “We are too polite. We need to complain more”.
Entering into scripted territory, “The Mob Doctor“, currently shooting in Chicago, follows a female surgeon that is forced to moonlight to treat one of the city’s major crime lords. Josh Berman, who also works on “Drop Dead Diva”, explains “the doctors to the mob are usually motivated by greed…but I think we flipped that”. The key with this show is that it “does not need to be black and white” and “we love that, with our idea, the starting point is that there is no rules”. As far as shooting in the Windy City, he states “it is tough to beat Chicago for a mob town [because] it has an old world feel”. In terms of the mob doctor Grace (played by Jordana Spiro), “we have really mapped out [her] story” adding that the narrative “is really grounded” and “we are not playing to the humor at all”.
Rob Wright, also an executive producer, who concurrently works on “Diva” with Berman as well as previous stints on “Las Vegas” and “Knight Rider”, sees the progression of “Mob Doctor” “sort of like ‘Faust’ with elements of ‘The Sopranos’ meets ‘ER'”. The thought for them of the notion of “‘Do No Harm’ juxtaposed with ‘No Honor Among Thieves'” creates an interesting dynamic because the jealousy of the hospital mirrors the mob world.
Jordana Spiro, who plays Grace, speaks that, with Chicago, “when you are on location, it lends to the authenticity”. The physical aspect of that “a house is a house” gives it a weight for her. She agrees though, in terms of the tone, that “the timing of this will have to be handled carefully” because “it is the seduction of that kind of human desire [that leads] to the dark side”.
William Forsythe, no stranger to heavies (he famously played Al Capone on the TV series of “The Untouchables”), explains years ago when that show ended “they placed me [as Al] in prison”. “The Mob Doctor” begins with him being released (though he is not playing Capone here). It plays full circle in his mind.
Circling into closure, “Fringe” finds its notion of heaven and redemption possibly in the resurrection of its final season. J.H. Wyman, an exec producer on the show, speaks that the goal of this season is “because we have done so much work to get people interested in the mythology”, that has to come to fruition. The key beneath is that “the root of it all is that these people [Walter, Peter & Olivia] are what the fans care about” but “the relationships need to pay off”. In terms of lessons learned, he says “Akiva [Goldsman, another executive producer] taught me that being clever is not an emotion”. Looking at the endgame of the series, he states “we want the end of these characters to be beautiful and touching” while “still connecting to the metaphor of the difficulty of keeping families together”. He accentuates that “where else can you talk about an affair [in a series] that involved two of the same people”. Seeing the ending in sight, he says that, over the years, there have been 3 or 4 possible end scenarios, but “it [the show], being a living breathing organism, is going to change” and “I truly believe the show has a natural end”. How that is seen takes the form of “something that we know is right but how that takes shape is always in flux” though he resolves “I want them to have what’s been earned”.
Anna Torv, having taken the duality of a character like Olivia Dunham to new heights, explains “the more you have to do, the more you are engaged in it”. In terms of playing both sides, she says “I loved it so much because, when ‘Ultimate Olivia’ came in, I knew what I didn’t want to repeat” but continues that “it is very much on the journey”. As far as seeing what the end has in store, she hints that “we have a little bit of a clue in terms of what is going on more than ever before”. Speaking of her co-stars, “for me, watching John [Noble] and Josh [Jackson] taught me how television works and how you attack [it]” in that “you look at the story and plan out your arc”. One of the key lessons, she says is leanring that “television is fluid” sensing that “you’d watch them [John & Josh] pushing the envelope” . She adds that “John [Noble] tries anything and everything”. The complication for her becomes “you don’t realize things unless you can define it” but “because we are a cult show with a cult following, you can [end] it right”.
Joshua Jackson, playing the essence of Peter Bishop, waxes that “in an odd way, I have plenty of actor friends that had shows cut before their time” but this one “is not bittersweet since all shows end” but it is important “to have it end well”. Looking at John Noble’s immersion as Walter Bishop, Jackson explains “what he has done and created in the character in Walter, it is once in a lifetime”. He continues that “we are in a good era of television” but specifies that, with “Fringe”, “great science fiction takes big think ideas and makes the entry point lower” but “you have to have the cahones to do it”.
Fox continues to move to the balance without rocking the boat. Allowing “Fringe” to exit with grace definitely creates a specific tone while maintaining with tried and true formulas across the board that both engage and intensify their viewership.
Seth McFarlane continues to prevail himself as the King Of All Media in finding new ways to connect with global comic sensibilities while maintaining a status quo of audience expectation. With “Family Guy” still going strong along with “American Dad” on Fox, he recently found a way to break the live action barrier in a distinct form with “Ted”. At Fox Television’s All Star TCA Party held at Soho House in West Hollywood, McFarlane discussed with IR’s Tim Wassberg elements of tone, necessity of structure and his perception of student films.
Tim Wassberg: Finding tone in material of thematic versus dramatic in your material especially in Family Guy. How has that evolved for you in your modern equation?
Seth McFarlane: That is a very broad question. Each episode is created as its own animal. An animated shows gives you a long period to do more comedy oriented and more action filled episodes. It is a pretty broad canvas but we treat each episode as a little movie. And there doesn’t need to be a stylistic tone in much of the storytelling.
TW: Has the fact that the audience has become broader changed the approached the essence of story structure, especially with the inclusion of international markets?
SM: It hasn’t really changed the process, no. I figure the audience has gotten broader just because of what we are doing so it is better that we keep doing it [that way].
TW: How do you keep from second guessing yourself?
SM: I always second guess myself.
TW: How important then is instinct vs. life experience to you now especially having branched out with something like “Ted” vs. ongoing material like “Family Guy” and “American Dad”?
SM: I think it is a little of both. There are many different factors that go into production of a movie like that. It is instinct to know what’s funny. It’s life experience as far as what has worked in the past.
TW: Can you talk about college audience who made “Family Guy” what it is and how what we do can blossom possibly in that way?
SM: The only thing I really did that was significant as far as my college episode was to produce a student film that was very commercially something. I was not out to express my inner demons. I was out to make something that would be a calling card and useful when I got out into the professional world. I think that is a mistake. I think you make the film you want to make but for someone who wants to get into the business professionally, the other mistake that is made is that they don’t think beyond what the student film shows.
TW: And did your first film show that?
SM: I think it did. It was a rough version of “Family Guy”.
Seth’s Student Film was entitled “Life Of Larry” which he made at Rhode Island School Of Design.
IR Television Review: Continuing Boundaries & The Human Medium – Returning TV Shows – Spring 2012 – Part II
The advent of a plethora of continuing animated shows distinctifies the approach of the genre but, beyond the procedurals, there lies a grand amount of live action situations (cartoons if you like) that can get the boundaries bumping on good ol’ Earth. Granted many of these shows that can balance humor and drama are harder to come by but USA tends to keep on top of it as highlighted by their sophomore show “Fairly Legal” while a cartoon like “Bob’s Burgers” exemplifies using the medium to reflect real human intentions albeit with longer foreheads.
Ugly Americans As much as the lead character Mark wants to help people, he ultimately gets sidetracked by the element of pursuit that trumps all others: sex. In expanding their comfort zone outwards, the creators decide to switch Callie for an episode to a guy (ultimately so she can infiltrate the underwater kingdom of Atlantis) which creates an element of unease as Mark’s girlfriend (being a demon) doesn’t understand such things. Ultimately the idea becomes that pollution begets pollution. The aspect of upper and mis-management becomes a more particular case when, through the aspect of a bad stand up routine, Mark becomes the head of the company only to find out a grand amount of misspent money to celebrate employees birthdays. While not as mythological, “Americans” does find its footing but it is becoming harder for it to stay there.
South Park The application of social niceties never quite circled into Cartman’s realm but with the continuing thought here the balance between notions of genre and ripped from the headlines precedence seems to unbalance at the weirdest of times. While the bullying aspect might in fact be explored in deeper structure at a different time, the idea of Cartman as both a would-be emissary as well as the town’s worst nightmare seems to be prevailing whether he is racially profiling a relationship while also posing as gay or spearheading the most simple squandering based episodes about the new trendy kind of streaking to do. Despite this, the extremeness of the novelty is wearing off, even with an intrinsic spot on element about the TSA where inspectors are placed in bathrooms after an over-reactive mother dies on the toilet when her son doesn’t put the toilet seat down.
Thundercats Building the mythology involves the cats moving through worlds and not just staying on the ground. The evolution and pursuit of this is the key in making the series more epic. The use of the different animal classes whether it be dog, cat, bird, rat or beyond start to form an element of the hierarchy which gives the storyline much more gravitas beyond the literal threat of Mum-Ra. What is starting to happen is an evolution into a notion of “Spartacus” with Lion-O acting as that stalwart which has come into more specific focus when a new female cat who is a fighter in the arena becomes part of their clan. The infiltration of this storyline is subtle in the way it necessitates itself. However even the use of Lion-O going through different trials into order to win his life back after he mistakenly dies hints at a notion of theology which crystallizes even more when they have to take to the skies which is where their destiny lies, mystical rock or no.
Fairly Legal The tantalizing effort of mediator Katie seems to grow on a person. She can be a tad annoying but ultimately completely into control of her facilities. Last season seemingly portrayed an idealism of her being the pursuer instead of the pursuee in terms of her imploding marriage because she was so off her rock and focused on herself. There is no doubt that Katie is a selfish person at heart but her flaws (like the characters on many other USA Network shows) points to a fact of redemption. The idea that her resolution would come from a man who just has about enough regret as a spider shows the fire that the writers are playing with. It works in texture enough until it needs to be acted upon. Adding in a political race with Katie’s former husband as running for the contested DA seat creates some extra tension. What wins this viewer is simply Katie’s ability to be herself even in what should be a weighty legal world. His scenario to prove a legal point to her legal partner (and would-be suitor) using sexual teasing to prove a point is both intoxicating and heavily annoying which is what makes it work.
Bob’s Burgers The continuation of such a low-key show defies expectation but this little engine that could has done what “Allen Gregory” and “Unsupervised” cannot: a searing animated show that can still be funny without losing its irony or resorting to overdone sight gags. Whereas in “Archer”, H. Jon Benjamin is the star of the show, here he is the voice of reason; it is the kids with their intensive lack of sense and morality (or, in one case, too much of both) that propels the ideas. Whether it be looking for treasure in a soon-to-be-demolished taffee factory (which makes good reference to “The Goonies” with Cyndi Lauper even singing a modified theme song for the end credits) to Bob becoming a would-be hostage negotiator with his burgers, the irony is all too available. His kids are attention grabbers who will use whatever means they can to hog the high life from Bob who, beyond his simpleton view, means well.