The aspect of “The Jeff Dunham Show” has a tattered perception of its time. After premiering to big fanfare and good ratings, it seemed to lose traction. Now watching the DVD of the episodes, the consequence looking at it is that it really needed to have time to get going. The same was true of “The Chappelle Show”. One needs to find a rhythm to truly make this all work.
The first episodes are a balance of trying to find out what the essential DNA is of the program. On an ongoing basis, it is the competition and veritable odds of the characters Jeff brings to bear in the form of Peanut, Bobby J and Sweet Daddy D that truly makes the difference with his most popular creation Walter providing cynical commentary throughout the whole affair. Some specific sketches hit the mark while others hit the wayside but brilliance is a fleeting and finicky customer.
The first of the sketches that truly hits the mark goes against the grain of what Chappelle was good at which was the interaction with white folks. Here, in comparison, Sweet Daddy D brings Dunham to an old school barber shop and tells him to get out. The reality that Dunham himself has related [to this journalist] about the show is the fact that people forget they are talking to a puppet. You completely get that feeling within this sketch as the locals give their brother a true taste of what Dunham needs to do to attract the African American audience. It walks the line but knows it through and through.
The second sketch of note is Peanut who seems like he is on uppers anyway doing an infomercial for his new energy drink “Neow”. It has that fly-by mentality and works because you tend to think about Peter Jackson’s “Meet The Feebles” where all the puppets were going completely amuck. There is a taste here of that anarchy.
Bobby J, the redneck who never stops drinking, has a great sketch called “Drunk Proofing”. The little guy who gets squeamish when he goes to the doctor is out of his mind anyway and tries to make life a little easier for those around him despite the fact that he falls down stairs. Just as that idea is perfectly suited for J, Walter’s segment giving relationship advice in an almost speed dating lightning round works wonders.
The last intention of mention is Achmed, the Dead Terrorist, who is the newest addition in Dunham’s arsenal. When the character is doing the simple terrorist act, it doesn’t work as well but when he runs into situations he doesn’t know (like karate and adult book stores), that is when the comedy shines. Granted it is simply an unconscious reaction but it is within this corner where he earns the most laughs.
Though short lived, “The Jeff Dunham Show” showed the abilities of the man and the possibilities within this structure. Ultimately ratings determine the victor though it is interesting to see the plug pulled on this one so quickly. The show was not groundbreaking television but it was something different and the diversity of the DVD shows that. While the deleted Sweet Daddy D sketch missed the mark and some of the bloopers reveal too much “behind the curtain, the DVD itself shows the man’s talents on a different angle medium. Out of 5, I give it a 2 1/2.
ABC has show an ability for a specific cross-section of shows that push the envelope. While some like “Pushing Daisies” and “Better Off Ted” sometimes start to fall along the wayside, other successes like “Castle”, “Cougar Town” and “Modern Family” show that by angling the formula to a not-set portrayal, one can reap great awards. However with “Flash Forward” not performing as high as thought, the behemoth of “Lost” accelerates into its final season.
Lost The influx of many of the cast members for the final season were met with a thundering round of applause for this show who, in many ways, captured the zeitgeist the way few other shows in the past couple years have been able to do.
Emile de Ravin, who plays the returning Claire who had been missing since we saw her in Jacob’s hut a few seasons back, mentioned that they have seven more episodes to film in Hawaii. Her fondest moments have been when the whole cast has been together because of its family connotations though when she read the pilot back in the beginning, it took 3 times before it made any sense.
Evangeline Lilly, who was picked out of obscurity to play Kate, admits that as she was coming out for these final interviews, she knew she was going to “cry like a baby when it ends”. One of the aspects people don’t know is how hard filming the show can be. For her, the most lingering moments that stay in her mind come from the first season especially in the scenes when Claire gave birth and Boone died. That specific episode for her “culminated everything we were talking about”. The most intrinsic point for her was trying to find Kate as a character. Also being on Hawaii shooting can be a double-edged sword (in her estimation). She says “living in paradise is a little bit of a prison” because “when we’re on the island, we are on the island” but there is “an innate sense of freedom now that we are anticipating the end”.
Daniel Dae Kim, whose character Jin, morphed from a non-English speaking character to utterly subtle feats of discourse, says that the moment for him that defined the show was when they were launching the raft in the first season because that provided a culmination of thought. Now with the 6th season, the narrative style is again changing somewhat which distinctly makes it all the more challenging.
Josh Holloway, who created one of the most nuanced con-men in TV history, with the nickname-spewing Sawyer, says the whole experience has been incredible but there has been something about this last year. He admits a certain propensity for group scenes. He says they take two or three days to film but if you position yourself right, that is key, and admits he has gotten very good at that. For him, the premiere this year felt big like a finale which points for an interesting end to come. He thinks back to when he read the original pilot. His first impression was that Sawyer “was an asshole” and that he, as an actor” had “to figure out how to stay alive” because “unless [Sawyer] became something different, he might die soon”. He parallels the aspect of Kate explaining “as Evy says, to play a character within a place, you have to explore new character perspectives”. Josh’s observation of this man becomes that “Sawyer has been walking the fine line of humanity but retaining his edge”. This comes on the aspect of the writers putting him through every possible situation, both emotionally and physically. The scariest thing of all was “the whole Juliet thing”. He thought the audience might reject those two characters getting together because it was “discovering his humanity while being salty”. He admits that many of the greatest points of his life happened during the show: “validation as an actor, marrying, having a baby, my first home”.
Michael Emerson, who emerged in later seasons as a major character in Benjamin Linus, says that, with a show like “Lost”, it is better to be in the dark adding that “it is nice not to be burdened with the secret” because “that seems to get in the way”. In terms of the moments he remembers most, he jokes “that I have alot of fond memories of breathless confrontations in small rooms”. He says the Whidmore Bedroom and Jacob scenes are “scary and I love them”. He also mentions a scene when he and Sawyer are on a cliff and trading Steinbeck quotes all the while with Ben saying “I have a rabbit in my backpack”. In terms of the ending of season five, he thought it to be a master move adding “that it was a two-part cliffhanger but sufficiently mind-bending”. He ultimately sees Ben “as a character that reacts in a calculated way but once in while acts in a childishly impulsive way”.
Terry O’Quinn, who undertakes the enigma of Locke, says that he found out that he wasn’t real Locke during last season about a month before the episode aired, indicating that he was completely unaware to the fact for most of last season. For him, there is no true special moment in the series though he remembers when they were hanging out between a break in filming listening to Naveen Andrews playing guitar under the famous Banyan tree. He also reflects back to the pilot with JJ telling him that at first in the beginning with Locke there wouldn’t be alot but later on there would be.
Damon Lindelof, who along with fellow executive producer Carlton Cuse, have become the think tank of “Lost” after the departure of co-creator JJ Abrams, says that the idea of ending with the 6th season is “doing it while we still care” calling “Lost” “a once-in-a-career experience”. ABC allowing them to end the series on these specific terms is what Damon terms “a tremendous gift”. He echoes Evangeline in that they can’t believe it is coming to an end. In terms of what they tell the actors in terms of the story, he jokes that “quite honestly, we don’t speak to them at all”. He uses the example that if they told Terry O’Quinn (who plays Locke) that he was actually playing a guy from 1000 years ago, it would completely alter the approach. For Lindelof, the most memorable points in the show are the bridging aspects in creating these connections. For the following seasons, they usually start writing in the summer time but the inherent challenge always was walking the bridge, even when time travel came into play. In terms of the finale, he says with a wry smile: “Get ready to scratch your heads America”.
Lindelof says the major shift since the show started is informational because of the minutae that the fans follow vigorously. The biggest obstacle is to “guarantee a shitty ending” to “Lost”. For him, “the worst ending we could provide is a safe ending” but “you can’t take a risk just to take a risk” because ultimately in respect they “have no excuse to say anything other than ‘this is the way we wanted it to end'”. He admits that there is hope on their parts to wow the audience with the finite possibilities of the finale because “it wouldn’t be ‘Lost’ if it wasn’t an ongoing or active debate”. In terms of story for the final season, “there is an inherent process that when ending something, you always think about the beginning. He reflects on an earlier comment by Josh about the essence of new character perspectives because “you want to show the audience the before of where the characters were then”. He says he does reflect on what the legacy of the show will be but realizes that in the weeks after the series finale airs, the only thing people will be thinking about is just that episode. He makes a comparison to “The Sopranos” because people remember absolutely everything about the diner scene and the fade to black. The end always moves in mysterious ways.
Carlton Cuse, who runs the show with Damon, says that “we came up with the final image of the show in the first season but we started to add elements to that as we went along towards the end point”. The character stuff, he adds, works itself out as you go along but that the process of ending the show was fun because, as in many seasons before, the actors didn’t know where it was going beyond the next given script. The network has not pressured them for a spin-off but definitely says that “we are ending this story”. As far as the moment he remembers most, it involved Jack swimming out with the dog to save the drowning girl. In terms of the new season, the premiere picks up exactly where the finale last season left off. He agrees that they have been very circumspect about what actually might be going on in the 6th season. Jack and Farraday, he says, believe that the bomb going off might reset everything. He warns that not every question will be answered because they still want to maintain a fundamental sense of mystery.
Executive Briefing: Stephen McPherson The enigmatic and charming head of ABC entertainment actually made a point of introducing the “Lost” cast stating that many of the crew and some of the cast were still in Hawaii shooting but that “we look forward to finishing the journey”.
He recollects that when they were shooting the pilot for “Lost”, “with Evangeline, it came down to 24 hours before” when they barely got her work visa cleared from Canada. He credits Abrams and Lindelof for having a plan and a mythology in what “arguably will be one of the most influential shows of the decade”. He compares the season premiere “to nothing different than a gigantic movie” adding that “they put all they spend on the screen”.
In terms of ABC’s fall, McPherson announced the picks up of “Cougar Town”, “Modern Family” and “The Middle” for next season. No decisions, he says, have been made yet on “Hank” or “Better Off Ted” while “Castle” is their highest performing repeat show saying that, with the Alyssa Milano episode, the show “has met its stride” adding that he “hears so much anecdotally about that show”. To that point, he says that many “shows are alchemy to some extent”. With “Modern Family”, the pitch was simply “a big family”.
In terms of two new and expensive shows finding their footing, McPherson says, first off, with “V”, they always intended it to be in chapters but that production issues came into play. With “Flash Forward”, he said, it was a bit different because the repeat viewers didn’t seem to be coming back. The show’s reaction has to be supportive of its production. That is why they did a big push about bring “Flash Forward” back while making “V” more independent of that conversation. He sees a similar possibility in the upcoming “Happy Town” because it is also “serialized and event” but “honestly it all comes down to how it performs in the end” adding that they don’t have a set premiere date as of yet.
In terms of the response on the ongoing NBC difficulties, he says that “seeing a great network tumble is not something we revel in” because “it is disconcerting to see that happening in the industry”. That said, McPherson states that they are actually up 8% in their 10pm slots because the inherent situation has put “an emphasis on creative shows” adding that “we are very happy with the way things have gone down.”
The Deep End One of the few new shows that ABC is bringing forth is this lawyer drama which uses the rookie perception to show this cutthroat world in a new era.
Exec Producer David Hemingson, whose experience in the legal world provided the basis for the series, calls it “a confluence of circumstances” since “the show mirrors the beginning of my career. Billy Zane, as the venemous Cliff Huddle, calls his character “a shark” with a personality “always moving…always calculating”. He sees Cliff as operating on his own code because even though he and his wife are very passionate, he can’t keep his hands off of everybody else so he is interested how they handle his infidelity.
Clancy Brown, an actor best known for his genre turns in “Highlander” and “Starship Troopers” and recently mentioned as a front runner for the movie adaptation of “Lobo”, sees the story as a reflection of present day mediaries in that “you just look at the headlines and see the struggles between the letter of the law and the spirit of the law”. Matt Long, embodying series lead Dylan Hewitt who must deal with attacks on all sides, used lawyers in his family as reference but understood the key to the character is “to add to the situation but not add to what the hell is going on” but “it also helps to know what you’re [actually] saying.
Fox, in past seasons, has tried a cross-section of different inferences melding between both genre outlays like “Dollhouse” and “Fringe” while trying out new essences like “Glee” while stalwarts like “American Idol” rumble along. The essence has always been about crucial character work with an overall sense of commercial viability.
Code 58 This new buddy series from “Burn Notice” creator Matt Nix places Bradley Whitford from “The West Wing” and “Sunset 60” with Colin Hanks as two reverse sector cops who investigate odd little crimes, not unlike “Dragnet” with role reversal which his father made a film of many years ago.
Nix explains that he wrote the original feature script that did not sell about 12 years ago. Two or three years ago, Mikkel (Matt’s manager) brought it back up. “Code 58”, he expounds, is the actual Dallas police code for a routine investigation. The key becomes, paraphrasing Travis Bickle, “getting organized” admitting all of his television heroes, including Michael Weston on “Burn”, do it. He jokes that Shawn Ryan, who runs “Lie To Me” is giving him some coaching lessons since to maintain the balance between the humor and drama is difficult to do well but “sometimes you get a break”. He calls the cops in this new show “not necessarily bad cops”. Dan, played by Whitford, “is a fantastic 1981 cop and everything that comes along with that” adding that “he hasn’t really moved along with the times”. Jack, played by Hanks, is what Nix describes as “a very good cop who has embarassed his bosses publicly”. The irony, he says, is that they are not really investigating the crimes they solve. The key becomes finding “three or four stories that work and dovetailing them into each other”. Nix admits that now, after having some experience in this genre, he has become more comfortable with the angle of some of his characters adding that “it’s not like a sit down and think ‘I am going to make them laugh with this one'”. He explains that the production model of “Code 58” is very similar to “Burn Notice” in Miami with Dallas providing the balance of both incentives and crews.
Whitford, in trademark style, with a new mustache to boot, jumps into the fray saying “it turned out the last pilot I did was not picked up”. The original script, called “Jack & Dan” was more angled on a lecherous cop. Whitford personally sees his character as a great cop adding that “we turn out to be wonderful crime solvers” but continually joking that “there is a little bit of a drinking issue”. There was a tone within this series that he says he really responded to it which is similar to “Burn Notice”. He says when he first watched that other show, he saw an Elmore Leonard/”Raising Arizona” action comedy flavor which he had not seen on TV. He doesn’t know if people will be “fascinated or disgusted by my character” adding that “30 years ago I could have been a hot young cop” but that “I wear make up for a living” explaining that “there is no way to win”. He continues that he went “from feeling like a young actor to [feeling like] Ernest Borgnine”. He explains that what he shares with this character is that “I have a bright future behind me” which results in “a ripe combination of wisdom”.
Colin Hanks, for his point just looks on in disbelief as Whitford goes at a million miles a minute exhorting a chuckle saying that “for me, this is a script where I actually get to say funny stuff back” from “wanting to be able to have a witty banter”.
Executive Session: Peter Chernin & Kevin Reilly Fox has been finding their stride with the genres but the necessities involve staying one step ahead of the competition.
Chernin begins by saying that “Glee” would be picked up for a second season and that they would be adding three new characters but that these new cast members would not be determined by vote. In terms of the Conan situation, he says there is not much more to digest although he made a point that their position on late night was consistent. He professes his love for Conan but says that the late night host needs to make a decision about his own future. He does admit that they have talked to his people and there have been informal conversations. Jumping from there becomes the ensuing questions about “American Idol”. Chernin agrees that Simon Cowell is irreplacable but that “AI” needs to continue despite any of these perceptions. His outlook is that there are very fundamental differences between “X Factor” and “Idol” but the true fact is that “Simon is at the end of his contract”.
Reilly, for his part, relays some statistics beginning with the facts that they were up 14% (7% if you strip out the sport package). He says that “The Cleveland Show” was “a great step”. He also speaks of “Bob’s Burger” which is to be a multi-part reality series based within “Glee”. The Simon speculation continues to build which will be addressed but reinforces that there is “a lot of anticipation for Ellen”.”Human Target” will be premiering out of “24”. He speaks to the 13 episode order of “Dollhouse” saying that they had to “work to do it on Friday”. He called it ” a good show that had its run…and that’s that”.
At this point, Simon Cowell himself emerges based on the different ideas that Reilly and Chernin had been bouncing around for the previous minutes. Cowell says that “there has been alot of speculation[on his future] partly because we didn’t have an agreement” before saying that they had reached “a deal at half past eleven” the night prior with the lock to launch “X-Factor” in the US in 2011. “This will be my last season on American Idol” were his following words. He explained that he had met Chernin last October but that he had made a committment to staying on the show (“Idol”) in America. Cowell’s strategic belief revolves around “having a plan like a good football team. Even though Idol is not his show, Cowell is very close to it and is “confident that it will continue to be the number one show”. The angle he likes with “X Factor” is that there is no upper age limit and because of the development time frame, “we have some time to figure out who the judging panel is” since “the auditions are done in quite different ways”. He makes the joke that Ryan [Seacrest] should be a judge “because it will be another job”. He makes the point that he “has had the best 9 years of my life doing the job” on “Idol”. The most important thing in a judge, he says, is someone who knows what they are talking about who can shepherd the most important idea overall which is finding talent. His intention is to leave “Idol” “bigger and better this year than I have before”. While admitting he doesn’t like rules, he says that the example of Susan Boyle is the best ideal of his thought process because “the contestants are what makes [these shows] different”. In terms of “X-Factor” he said “America needs a second show…a different type a show”. And with that, in front of us, he signs the “X-Factor” deal memo as Reilly and Chernin look on.
Past Life This new series from one of minds behind “Friday Night Lights” follows an investigative team that uses structures of past regression in homicide victims to rebuild and solve cases. While the pursuant of forensic-based cases makes this a hybrid with a bit of supernatural, the necessity will need to be of balance to maintain the viewer.
Exec producer David Hudgins understands that “one of the challenges of a show like this is belief”. He said one of the aspects that they talked about ruminated on the platform of “no rules” which he interprets as “pushing the envelope”. In this way “we took the attitude that it is ‘all’ for real”. It was a matter of keeping an open mind as to how they approach the material and reflecting back that “anything is possible”. The key was also to keep the stories contemporary which was a balance of both a limited budget but also the structure of shooting in Atlanta which, beyond its incentives, didn’t offer the option of an ocean or desert
Lou Pitt, also an executive producer who also made the film “Hollywood Homicide” with Harrison Ford, says that with “Past Life” what “we try to do is take a little bit of the reality and give it a twist”. The series itself is based on the book “The Reincarnationist” by M.J. Rose who also wrote some of the series episodes. Pitt believes that the fact that more than a million people in the world believe in reincarnation is a good start.
Richard Schiff, who plays Dr. Malachi Talmadge on the show, says “I actually believe in it…so there”. He likes that there is something generally good about these characters in that they are healers. The aspect of reincarnation relies on the fact that “certain phenomenon cannot be explained in another way”. The reason these investigators return to this certain field is because these are “unsolvable mysteries”. He admits that there is alot of things in life that he doesn’t understand but that the show “explores some of the mysteries that confound me”.
Kelly Giddish who plays regressionist Dr. Kate McGinn, says that “the relationships in these worlds are defined” so there needs to be a search for a “special reason”. Nicolas Bishop, who plays her more unbelieving partner Price Whatley, says that doing the show motivates him with alot more curiousity adding that “to delve into skepticism is an interesting concept”.
Ravi Patel, who rounds out the cast as Dr. Rishi Karna, admits that he doesn’t believe in reincarnation but that he does believe in karma which is “more of a principle”. One of thee major elements he enjoys about the show is that “no overarching key is left unturned” which allowed for some “really pleasantly surprising things to come to light”.
24 This series has becomes a crucial part in pacing. Like John McClane was to “Die Hard”, Jack Bauer now has a complete rule ovr a certain part of the TV landscape. The question becomes one of thought, pliability and effectiveness in the coming season.
Exec Producer Howard Gordon, who was also a major force on “The X-Files”, says that there is a cathartic aspect to “24” but balanced within that has always been a “creative proposition”. The key becomes to not become “too comfortable in your assumptions” but adds that “there is no sea change or conscious propaganda”.
Kiefer Sutherland, who also acts a producer on the show in addition to his starring role, says that their objective is “great substance in a 24-hour period”. He points to that fact that “24” as a show alleviated alot of the stress people had about terrorism on an individual level after 9/11. What Howard [Gordon] did was give Jack something to “right” for. He agrees that they have taken Jack to “some dark places: the loss of his wife, the estrangement of his daughter”. The kicker, for him. “is that giving him something to fight for is an exciting place to be for a character”. He relays that it surprises him that the show has been translated into 14 languages and that Jack Bauer has become part of the idiom of pop culture. He actually relates a story some kids told him about horsing around in a hot tub including a cannonball scenario where they said “I’m going to Jack Bauer you”. In terms of creative decisions that pushed the boundaries politically, Kiefer says that the torture sequence which were done for dramatic purpose did cause them some heat. However his perception is that Bauer is a “result oriented character” when, by paradox, his superiors wanted to do it by the book but admitted “that was the only time we addressed a specific political issue”. He always is shocked though when people say they feel safer on the plane with him.
Katee Sackoff, formerly of Battlestar Galactica and the short lived “Bionic Women” joins the cast as Dana who is involved in the new narrative this season. She says that this character is the closest she has ever played to herself even though Dana is a computer analyst. In this kind of situation, everything becomes more interesting because the woman has a past. One of the character’s former strengths was raising show ponies in Kentucky. But, of course, as Sackoff states, “it goes bad…it’s 24”. She admits Dana is “very good and loves being close to Chloe’s boss” a subtle hint at a development possibly this season. Her strength, she jokingly, adds is that she “has boobs and two guns” because unlike “Battlestar” “this is different…this is on land”.