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Material Traction & Genre Progression: The 2019 CBS Network & CBS All Access TCA Winter Press Tour

CBS Networks’ progression of the day indicated the breathe of material but also the specific detail intonated in each of their respective programs. This becomes more apparent even as the network found the balance between purely broadcast and All Access, which is quickly gaining traction as the place to watch new genre series (as the newly announced “Twilight Zone” spearheaded by Jordan Peele attests).

The World’s Best The reality genre, specifically the idea of what this consists of, has considerably changed over the years. Mike Darnell, who produces this new “variety show” on CBS per se has led the way. Currently as President Of Alternative Programming at Warner Brothers Television, he understands the way things work. The idea here was finding acts that had not been seen before that don’t necessarily need to be “found” to guarantee their success. He explains how he approached this show: “Sometimes we say it was expensive and you can see it on the show. [But] CBS stepped up to make it big. The sale of the show was based on a built concept. When I was working at Fox and we did ‘Idol’, a lot of singing shows came along. [With] “The Voice”, [we] took the singing show and added a game show element. Here we have was spinning chairs [but also add] the aspect of the “Will of the World”. This adds a global feel of selling it, making it fresh and new.” Darnell continues: “There are so many singing shows. There has been only one variety show. While ‘America’s Got Talent’ is the best in the world, the format has got to change.” Executive Producer Alison Holloway, who has also worked on “America’s Got Talent”, had to find those acts that were perhaps a little harder to uncover: “I have a small casting team because it is very hands on. The Internet is a great tool for casting. That is where a lot of work is done. But talking to your contacts…seeing what the local papers in China are talking about…[that is how] we want to get something [that] is a little different.” Darnell also explains the changing directive of what alternative programming means: “Alternative covers this wide umbrella of variety. Other genres are fairly well defined. I cannot tell you how many times I have heard in my career that reality is dying. [But] the networks rely on them, especially for same day numbers, which is important for advertising.” Ru Paul Jones, one of the judges on the show, concludes with a perception of the talent: “In our lifetime, we have had a lot of things happen. These [acts we see] are people who have spent their lives perfecting what they do. [As judges] we weren’t prepared for the emotional journey and the expertise.”

Red Line This new dramatic/event series uses the texture of the Red Line which is a force in terms of geography that both connects and separates Chicago’s different sides, both financially and racially as a train system. The two show runners come from independent cinema with their film “A View From Tall” playing the Los Angeles Film Festival. Their play “A Twist Of Water”, which played Off Broadway was actually the inspiration for the show. Caitlin Parrish, one of the show runners, explains their trajectory: “We come from theater but with a cast this sprawling there was something enticing about the longer form. The red line is one of the main lines in the city from the very north to the very south. For as segregated as Chicago is, this touches upon every person in the city. It was our metaphor of choice.” Her co-showrunner Erica Weiss continues: “I think Chicago has a lot to say in the national communication. We did our research to make sure we are giving the fullest picture possible. The socio-politcal element in Chicago is rich and we’re telling stories about characters and their personal choices.” Noah Wyle, who plays Daniel Calder, wanted to try something perhaps more grounded than his recent roles like “The Librarian”: “The emotional reaction I had to the first reading of this script was so intense. It was about leaving a lot of my creature comforts as far as wearing hats and doing it differently on every single level.”

The Neighborhood In the first of quick freshman show highlights, this show moves forward in a structure like a reverse “All In The Family” where it is more based in a white family moving into a black neighborhood. Show runner Jim Reynolds, who has written for such shows as “Samantha Who?” and “The Big Bang Theory” offers his perception: “I don’t think the show is written from a black perspective. I think it is balanced. It is based on my experience of moving into a predominantly African American neighborhood.” Cedric The Entertainer who plays Calvin talks about the show: “Calvin is the patriarch of the neighborhood. This is where the character is rooted, where he is grounded. In a lot of ways, ‘All In The Family’ was set up where that character has the biggest perspective to have the greatest change. [For me] it was trying to get across a point of view. Luckily the way I have discovered Calvin in his hubris and how he discovers who he is is endless. [But] no one wants to see [the two sides] bicker or him being mean. It is about that line.” Tichina Arnold, who also starred on “Martin”, explains the balance: “Racism comes from fear, the fear of unknowing. I think that it is important that this conversation does happen. When two households get together and have conversation, they learn from each other.”

FBI From Dick Wolf, creator of “Law & Order” and the “Chicago” franchise, this look into the Bureau is built to be a launching board for a whole new world of spin-offs. Missy Peregrym, who recently guested on “Hawaii Five O”, takes up the lead as Special Agent Maggie Bell. She explains the balance and challenge in creating a new character in this world: “The first season is really tricky [as far as] developing the dynamics. It is a grind but it is such a win when it works. Z (her co-star Zeeko Zaki) and I have had a lot of conversations as to how that works. We’re not making a judgement about what is happening.” Zaki portrays her partner, Special Agent Omar Odom. “I was surprised at how a lot of pieces that are not FBI are within the family. It is such a bigger thing without egos,” he explains. “They shoot these episodes really big to make them as big and intense as reality. That is the goal of the show. [And we are] doing 22 [episodes]. I am not sure it is normal.” Peregrym also discusses her trajectory in the law enforcement genre as she started with the ABC show “Rookie Blue”: “I was a rookie and I had to go through every mistake and embody it. [With] every single person here I interview [here for my role]…I really want to listen and give them the respect of being a human being no matter what the situation is. I had to really grow up to do this.”

God Friended Me This other new freshman series has a unique perspective in its use of social media but with an intriguing religious balance (which brings to mind the defunct 2018 series “Living Biblically” which was covered at CBS TCAs last year in addition to an exclusive one-on-one with Ian Gomez ). But the texture is always timing within the zeitgeist. Brandon Michael Hall, who previously was the lead on ABC’s “The Mayor”, plays Miles who gets a text from God. His approach to the material is the essence of creating “a deep and honest friendship” within the show. Bryan Wynbrandt, the show runner, who also co-created “Alcatraz” with JJ Abrams explains: “We haven’t put any restrictions on topics. The show is no really about religion but rather humanity [because] religion is just one aspect of being a human being. Nothing is really off limits but we don’t let religion drive the show.”

With CBS All Access, CBS has begun to engage a new audience with originals shows that occupies even a different space than CW and Showtime, thereby ensuring its uniqueness.

The Good Fight This spin-off of “The Good Wife” starring Christine Baranski as Diane Lockhart allows the acidic wit to simply wash with delicious aplomb over the audience. Robert & Michelle King, who also created “The Good Wife” as well as the short lived “Brain Dead” starring Mary Elizabeth Winstead, looked to find the right tone as they molded the show. Robert explains: “What you try to do is stay as close to the zeitgeist as possible. We are not real fans of shows that preach to the choir.” He continues that in creating story lines “a lot of it is about a satire to the left.” Baranski talks about how her character continues to build: “It is quite serendipitous is that [my character] was emboldened by what happened in history (Trump being elected instead of Clinton).” As a result, she explains, “it is a show with a lot of people dealing with what is going on. [Diane] was always the woman in the room when it happens [but she is] trying to keep her balance in a dystopian world…[which is] inspired for me.

Star Trek: Discovery Heading into its second season, this flagship show for CBS All Access does have to walk the line between new storytelling and the aspect of canon. With Alex Kurtzman taking full helm of showrunning duties this season along with the new cast fodder in Anson Mount as Captain Pike and Ethan Peck as Spock, the texture of how it all fits together still continues as a puzzle. Kurtzman explains: “We see canon as an amazing opportunity. There is amazing grey area where we didn’t know what happened to Spock in his life. [But] we certainly know that in order for ‘Discovery’ to live on, we have to be able to operate outside of canon. The common denominator among the cast is that they are empathetic [But from what you are seeing] these are the proto versions [of these characters]. Mount speaks to taking on a character straight out of canon: “Ethan had a tougher job that I did. Obviously it is an enormous sense of responsibility. I grew up with Kirk as my captain. [But] my favorite character was Data.” Ethan Peck, grandson of Gregory Peck has the undeniable pressure of taking on the iconic character of Spock: “It is a huge responsibility [but] I had the faith of people. I spent a lot of time of Nimoy’s performance. [This space in canon” exists] 3 years after the TOS pilot “The Cage”. Finally Sonequa Martin-Green, who plays the lead Michael Burnham, (whom IR has interviewed for both Season 1 and Season 2), knows that the character is still evolving in many ways: “The guilt is going to take a long time [for her] to process and set aside. It is a big part of the overall feeling that needs to happen [for her]. There is a deep desire to rewrite history to make up for these major mistakes. [For Michael], reinstatement into Starfleet is a big step forward. There is a lot of healing on Discovery…[and] a journey towards restoration.”

By Tim Wassberg

IR Print Interview: Jim Parsons For “Young Sheldon” [WBTV Studio Day – TCA Winter Press Tour 2018]

Imparting knowledge and passing on the possibilities in an interesting exercise when the character you play on a major international TV show is that of Sheldon Cooper, played with finesse and specific approach by Emmy winner Jim Parsons. Visiting the set of “Young Sheldon” as part of the Warner Brother TV Day at Warner Brothers Studios during the TCA Winter Tour 2018, Jim sat down to talk about the evolution of the character, his perceptions and the living on of Sheldon’s legacy.

Your understanding of Sheldon has evolved over the years including unforseen aspects of compassion. Can you talk about that?

Jim Parsons: Well, what’s interesting to me is — and again, why I’m not a writer is because I don’t see things like this. But what they touched on, how we’re seeing, of course, [in this show] is how Sheldon evolves into who we know him to be on the adult older show. And I made a joke with [the younger actor], “Eventually you’ll get to be more irritating,” I said today to him. But it’s really kind of the truth about it. It’s like we’re going to see the slings and arrows – I’m sorry – of life and just growing turn him into even more of the person I’m playing. I don’t know. It’s interesting.

And yet there is more a transformation as the older Sheldon has become engaged…

JP: I do agree with that. I think that it’s one of the journeys they’ve really worked to take him on. We’ve had several different episodes, it feels like, where Amy is coaching him in the ways of being empathetic — we’re working on an episode right now, not to give anything away, where he realizes that she doesn’t do certain things that she wants to do because she knows how he’ll react to it. And he doesn’t like it. And so he begins — it’s another example — he starts trying to work on not complaining about what she wants. It lasts for a couple of pages (laughing) I’ll be honest, as an actor, I really thank God for it because it’s one of the fences that they straddle so well as writers is keeping everything true enough to keep the audience there, but moving it along enough to keep everybody working on it interested, I think including themselves. It’s a major gift and the longer we’ve gone on our show, the more evident that’s become.

Now the overarching journey, especially with your — Sheldon’s relationship with his mother in “Young Sheldon” — I mean, obviously that affects how you relate in present time

JP: Well, I feel like, if I’m being honest, the writers keep doing the thinking about it. So not to sound like…

But you inhabit him.

JP: Without a doubt. But so much of the inhabiting process for me is just saying the words out loud in rehearsal. And once you’ve done that, how IT makes you feel to say it, how it affects the person that you’re saying it to…that kind of instructs it along. And I also will say, I’ve tried to be — I don’t overthink this, but I have always tried to be very conscious of — it’s kind of what they teach you in acting 101 — don’t judge your character or whatever. I try to leave myself enough at the whims of him to be able to do kind of a 180 from one script to the next if it’s just not that happening in that week or whatever the mood is that Sheldon’s in. I don’t know. At the same time, I guess, I’m not thinking about it too much.

So they’ve talked about writing the end of the show. Can you see going several more seasons?

JP: I think anything is possible. But that’s the thing. I just think anything in thisv– it’s getting into really odd territory as far as less and less examples [of places] to go. “Well, they did this. And there’s this other show did this.” It’s really getting into a very individual state of how does everybody feel and whatever. And that includes the writers, who we’ve not had some major discussions with. There hasn’t been a cast and producer discussion about the future of our show or whatever. I will tell you that, for whatever reason, they’ve all been enjoyable seasons. But as far as camaraderie goes, the frivolity on the set, and just the jovial atmosphere has never been at a more pitch degree than it is this season. And I don’t know if that’s because they’re always like, “I think the end is near”. Or just because it’s uncertain now where we’ve gone through so many seasons, we’ve been lucky enough to just know certainly what’s going on.” But I don’t know. I think it’s related to some sort of appreciation of each other that you were able — kind of like family — to just kind of take it for granted that they’re going to be there next week. They’re going to be there. And now the weeks are might be getting short. You just don’t know. So because of that, I could see making things go further. It’s really hard to say. And there’s so many people making their own decisions and all.

How has your appreciation for TV evolved?

JP: Well, you know what’s funny is the day and age we are in I feel is, in a good way, overwhelming. I think we’re in a wonderful time in the entertainment industry in general as far as everything goes. But it’s still so in flux, and changing, and moving, and growing. Just the sheer amount of options is just– it’ll be really interesting to see because you can’t help to feel like everything is still evolving.

How much time do you spend on doing the voice-over for the show?

JP: Very little. I can do anywhere from three to seven episodes in a 45-minute period. I mean, even on a heavy episode. What I enjoy about this process [is that] it’s different version of using timing and a different version of putting a pause here or whatever there that will make it funnier, hopefully, or just change it. And when it’s not timed to visual, it’s just less of that.

Can you talk about imparting appreciation to Ian? So he knows sort of what to expect in terms of the impact of Sheldon as a character. You’ve said that you’ve sort of guided him. But how do you maintain that sort of mentorship?

JP: Well, if it’s happening at all, it’s happening as organically as it can, and it’s happening a lot through his mother. Lee Armitage, his mother, and I, we are usually texting and incontact with each other a bit, like quite frequently and not for a pointed purpose. We just enjoy talking. But as you do with relationships, the specific questions get snuck in, not snuck in, but they just come up. Like, “Have you ever been to one of these events before?” And so it just happens very organically like that. There’s no real preparing for anybody for some of the more, oh God, recognizable type aspects of this and the celebrity of it or whatever, just the being noticed. Any preparation, especially with young people, and really, for adults, too, has to happen before. And, in these kids’ cases, they really do have a remarkable set of parents. They’re all different. They’re all unique.

Does that allow the kids to be naturalistic, do you think, in their acting? Or does it have to be nuanced?

JP: I don’t know if that’s a direct relation, but I do, now that you say that, I have to think that, yes, none of them have a kind of like – I don’t know – squeaky little cutesy thing that they came in doing. They all just kind of, as the adult actors do, read the material, say it, and see where it goes.

But as creator Chuck Lorre has, you found the way to make somebody like Sheldon so likable despite some of his characteristics. There’s an art to that.

JP: Well, I think, though, that it’s partly, too, a point of view that a lot of actors come in with to varying degrees and is, in their own special way, seeing what is redeemable about my character? Because coming into it with over-obvious assumption, of course, that my character doesn’t want to do harm. Of course, my character wants other people to like him or her in one way or another. And when you kind of approach it through that, I think that’s really the way around in how things are, if not softened, the audience can be able to identify in like, “I’m a good person, and I say nasty things sometimes!” (laughing). I don’t know.

By Tim Wassberg

IR Exclusive Print Interview: Peter Giraldi Of Blue Ribbon Content [WBTV Studio Day – TCA Winter Press Tour 2018]

The aspect of the diversifying element of digital and conventional is a continuing discussion that permeates both the marketing but also the creative and production ends of new material. Peter Giraldi, who serves as Executive VP, both of Blue Ribbon Content, Warner Brothers’ digital platform, as well as Alternative Programming at Warner Animation, has a unique perspective in both looking at the tastes of millennials and older but also to the new consumers presently consuming digital entertainment. Giraldi spoke with Inside Reel at the WBTV Studio Day at the Warner Brothers lot in Burbank, California about evolution, creative decision making and instinct.

We spoke before about animation and how animation feels. Can you talk about the different ideas and styles of how that fits into the bigger idea of what Blue Ribbon versus Warner Animation proper which has evolved from its shorts beginnings.

Peter Giraldi: That’s right. I split my time between Blue Ribbon and Warner Bros. animation, so a lot of what I do is still in the animated world, and I took that with me. Both Sam Register and I took that with us when we started Blue Ribbon. It is important. The thing is that animation is very expensive when it’s done well, and it’s all super long production time. So part of the thing that we’re doing is trying to figure out new methodologies, new partners to kind of condense that. Not the quality, but the — maybe it’s paperless animation, maybe it’s digital, maybe we’re doing more stuff in Harmony or a program like that, so we can condense that a little bit.

Does itcome down to the timeframe of it? Where you got 5 minutes first in terms of lenth, 10 minutes. You’ve got everything from Samurai Jack back to Teen Titans Go!.

PG: Yes, for sure. And I’m comfortable in the short form in between 7 and 11 minutes. I do a lot of stuff for Adult Swim, and those are quarter-hour formats. It’s more about, first of all, what the story is. Secondly, what that vision is, the art direction or the creative direction of whatever it is, and how you get that across, with the budget and the runtime. Is it very stylized, is there a lot of held frames, is there a lot of motion graphic trickery? Or is it full-on just drawing, drawing, drawing, drawing, drawing. There’s two different ways. We did a show called Ginger Snaps — it was on ABC digital– actually Ashley Simpson does the voice for that, but it’s a young writer named Sono Patel. And for that we used — we were very smart – we used an animation facility in New Zealand because it worked for us. We missed no turnaround time. Because by the time we got in in the morning, all the shots were ready for us to look at [from the day before], and that really condensed the budget for us. So, because of my experience in animation, I can look into it a little bit and understand the pre-pro and how to work it out for the budget.

How active are you guys in development? In going after, taking those meetings, finding those new voices…

PG: Very active. A lot of times, it’s like, how do we take what they’re doing and — maybe it doesn’t need anything from us. We just give them our support and let them keep doing what they’re doing. Sometimes, they want to learn more and elevate a little bit, so we bring some more “traditional” talent into the party. Or sometimes they actually say, “You know what, I’m done. Can I mess around with the Hair Bears or Snagglepuss?” Sometimes what helps attract talent as well, isnot us pushing…it’s people coming to us and saying, “I’ve been a Huckleberry Hound fan my whole life.” It’s like, “Well, come on over.” And to be open to able to try new things with it…within reason.

I was able to see Killing Joke finally, but I saw it Joke on my tablet. Nothing else beyond that. Can you talk about that, and talk about people consuming that way, especially animation, not just live action.

PG: I think, for animation specifically, it’s fantastic because it’s backlit — and I’m talking pure technical now — it’s a backlit medium. [So the tablet is] fantastic for animation. It’s perfect. That’s the way we create it, half the time, either on a lightbox, or a [Cintiq or something like that. It’s great, the range of color, the range of effects, the range of — and even in the pre-production of how it’s actually created — it’s great. Digital has done great things for animation. What has not done great is people thinking they don’t have to draw anymore. There’s no getting away from drawing. It takes a lot of drawings to make a lot of good animations.

We don’t want 2D to go away.

PG: That’s not where my tastes lie in CG. I’m a 2D guy. In a 3D world.

By Tim Wassberg

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