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Dramatic Progressions & Comedic Timing: The 2010 CBS Summer TCA Press Tour – Feature

HIn structure of its new season, CBS understands its structure of comedy, both new and proven with the high performing “Big Bang Theory” but also freshman entries like “Mike & Molly” and “S%&t My Dad Says”. However, in parallel, the network is also embracing sleek hour long programming to structure balancing the high octane elements of “Hawaii Five-O” with the characters drama of “Blue Bloods” starring perennial Tom Selleck.

The Big Bang Theory Entering into a fourth season, the idea becomes to not become complacent in the character structure but also being aware of how finite the experience can be. The chemistry and timing of this series much like “Cheers”¬†or “Night Court” funnels the show from not taking itself too seriously.

Chuck Lorre, the creator of the show, says its inception was a very tortuous path because the writer’s strike abbreviated the first season. With the current coming season, it will be their 4th move in just as many years which, given their success after three seasons, doesn’t worry him too much. His perception is that “our job is to make a good show” insisting that “we grow the crops but we don’t bring them to market”. In terms of Penny & Leonard, he said it was always built-in that they would have a difficult relationship but like the audience, the bond is “fragile”. In terms of writing, you can’t think completely in terms of a season because “there are too many choices”. One specific example is Sheldon’s speeches which are meant to allow a view inside his head. The irony and realization now coming forth is that Penny is domesticating Sheldon which they discovered as they went along since the characters are so monumentally different. The one aspect that remains true is that Leonard’s affection for Sheldon is unspoken which exec producer Bill Prady mirrors saying that what anchors the show is that Leonard is “the center between two worlds” as “he is the character mostly in motion”.

Kaley Cuoco, who plays Penny, follows up this up saying that “none of us really knows what’s going on”. In terms of contract negotiations for the coming seasons, she jokes that she “would do next season for free”. The reaction from the fans makes her “extremely touched” which the boys jump on her for. The relationship with Leonard and its falling out last season she calls “super realistic” which Johnny Galecki mirrors acknowledging his character is the most normal but “doesn’t have the navigation tools” to excel. Cuoco admits that Penny and Sheldon have a special relationship in that they now respect each other.

Jim Parsons, who plays series favorite Sheldon, says that the ideas for his character play simplistic but there are variations and, within that, it is interesting to find the rhythm. He resolutely agrees that their “fan base is distinctive” calling their most recent Comic Con, which they will always attend, a “pep rally”. For him it is always easier when they get to show night where the speeches become “a surprisingly non-thought process” though he admits that “rock/paper/lizard/spock” was never easy.

Simon Helberg, who plays Walowitz, jokes when Kunal Nayymar (also known as “Raj”) mentions the influx of Indian proliferation in Hollywood that “someday Jews will make their mark in show business”. With the love relationship last season which built then faltered (though Lorre says that the love interest is coming back), Simon says that “it’s nice to cut through the sleaze a little bit and get to the character” insisting that there is “a bleeding heart underneath” Walowitz’s charming exterior. His belief is to not ask questions but when pushed about the bromance between Walowitz and Raj, he says that “they love each other” to which Kanal say “non-sexually…mostly”.

After the presentation, discussing finer character points with Johnny Galecki who plays Leonard, he admits these kind of events make him nervous which is probably why he can seem “too-cool-for-school” onstage when it is simply about maintaining face. While the rest of the cast seems to ham it up he reflects that he just loves playing in the character in that he wants people to see the tenderness of Leonard and not the actor behind it. This, in effect, is the hardest job on the show compared to a more showy role like Parsons’ Sheldon. The chemistry of the characters come from the pure basis of the idea but he admits that their evolution is a slow burn that might go on for many years. He understands that he is the view through which people structure their perception of what happens in the show. This is especially true in that he doesn’t wear glasses but yet he has them perched above his brow as we are talking. Galecki is a very thoughtful person which definitely needs to be brought to bear and will be interesting to see perhaps a darker tread in the series to see how it evolves.

Mike & Molly This new series again from the prospect of Chuck Lorre uses the structure again of off-set social groups to motivate comedy from all structures. Since this series follows two overweight people falling in love it provides a more standard structure that allowed “King Of Queens” to flourish.

Chuck Lorre admits doing the pilot was really fun and they are just starting to move on the series with Jim Burrows doing a majority if not all of the directing. In terms of handling his three shows (2 1/2 Men, Big Bang and this one), Lorre says that he is balancing all of this poorly but that it is mostly terrifying. With 2 1/2, it might seem like it is on autopilot but all those scripts need to be written at top level. With “Mike & Molly”, he hopes the humor comes off as “self deprecating with affection”. In terms of success, he says “I felt for a long time that all shows are fundamentally family shows” using examples such as “Cheers” and “Taxi” as primaries adding that both those shows also had “alot of characters and intricacies”.

Mark Roberts who co-created the show with Lorre, says that they talked very early on of comparisons to “Marty”. Mark had been thinking more within the context of two cops in a car show structured within a relationship comedy. The Overeaters Anonymous angle, he admits, was Chuck’s idea.

Billy Gardell, a working stand-up comic, who plays Mike, comes out of the gate with the joke that “my wife is little and I’ve done a little better than I should have”. He goes on to say “everybody has a different tick…mine just happens to be pizza”. In terms of character structure in reference to overeating, he reflects with the idea that “when you don’t deal with emotion, you push it down with a piece of cake”. Ultimately though, for him, the series is a love story adding that he is “humbled, to be at my age and weight in Hollywood” adding that “I got the Willy Wonka ticket”. The press tour is the part, like Galecki, that makes him nervous. Billy admits that he is 40 and that he has been a road comic for 20 years. He is just happy not to be at the Holiday Inn. His point with the concept: “We’re fat…the show’s funny!” adding “What else is there to say?” In terms of what idealism in stand up comedy he brings to the show, Billy says that “I had alot more dysfunction to pull on than just me and weight” explaining that he used “a sense of humor as a defense mechanism” most of his life.

Melissa McCarthy, who plays Molly, adds to Billy’s perception saying “anytime you see a broad spectrum, it is good”. The show, for her too, is not about weight but more about a “lovely relationship, both with Billy and with the family”

After the discussion, getting into finer elements with Billy, he says he is wonderfully content with not “having to play Chuck E. Cheese or the back of an Eckerd Drugs that has been converted into a nightclub”. In terms of the comedic basis, he says his biggest influences on the stage were Richard Pryor and George Carlin. Lately however with “The Honeymooners” all the way up to “Smokey & The Bandit”, it was Jackie Gleason saying “he had a gut but he was cool”. He also pays homage to John Candy whom he says “had a big heart”. Jim Burrows, best known for directing almost all of “Cheers”, is of particular help to Billy who says the seasoned professional “does little tweaks but let’s you know if you’re doing something wrong”. When he first came in for the audition. the concept was still functioning as the buddy cop show. With Lorre’s track record, he said he knew best “not to tell these guys anything”. But being on the stand-up stage is different than being able to do a retake in a taping though “if it doesn’t work, nothing can save you”. In retrospect, he said, he wouldn’t have been ready for this kind of breakthrough in his 20s but always thought he would get the wingman part and not the lead, since right now “thinner guys always get the chicks”. He quietly tells us of one of the first episodes, which he seems very excited about, which is about getting ready for the first date which might hit all the right notes.

The Talk In creating competition programming against ABC’s “The View”, the key is to have a more specific parlay in terms of approachability. With “The Talk” the focus more is around the maternal progression hoping to further capture that thought process with a rather diversified panel.

Sara Gilbert, who brought the project together, said it all came from a new perception. She was a new mom with her partner Allie and went to a group to gain perspective and found a great synergy. Even though she has been acting her whole life with recent stints on “The Big Bang Theory”, this will be the first time “I will be discussing my life”. Being able to talk about one’s relationship is key and she makes the point that “Allie is much taller than I am” and “clothes always look better on her”. She is hoping with her widely varying co-hosts that during their discussions that “it will be alright to interrupt” and long as they don’t “stampede”.

Leah Remini, who co-starred with Kevin James on the hit TV show “King Of Queens”, defends her point of view saying that “sometimes I am very unlikable as a person” but that “anything that comes out of my mouth is who I am”. She jokes that “there is the fear that I could be hated [on air] but I’m hated at home”. The fact, she relates, is that all the hosts on the show are moms that “have trials and tribulations we all go through”. She jokingly admits that “Sara is a better mom” in that “she feeds her kids”. As far as her perception on her relationship with her other half, he says that the most annoying aspect is that what he wants for the holidays or the like is always sex. Ultimately she says, she guesses that it’s good he still wants sex from her. She hopes that in this format she can help by letting women hear a story that makes them laugh.

Sharon Osbourne, well known as businesswoman, wife and mother, says that husband Ozzy probably doesn’t even know she is doing this show calling him “the perfect partner”. While she considers her views very liberal when it comes to kids she ironically is “very conservative” because “there is a fine line you have to take”. Regarding her exacting opinions, she makes the point that “I am not running for mayor” or “looking for votes” but “if people like it, fair enough”.

Julie Chen, rounding out the extension of the pack and who will be taking an abbreviated turn on “The Early Show”, explained her decision to join signifying that “I have a ten-month-old at home and I thought it would be a perfect match” but she could not serve as co-anchor for the morning as well, a feat impossible even for “The Chen-Bot” as she calls herself.

Hawaii Five-0 Reinventing a show with different dynamics and bringing it full throttle into the new century requires a bit of mirth and luck to play the game. Fortunately with a showrunner adept at reboots (Alex Kurtzman with “Star Trek”) and a diversified cast including Alex O’Loughlin (“Moonlight”), Daniel Dae Kim (“Lost”), Grace Park (“Battlestar Galactica”) and movie vet Scott Caan who make his first starring role to TV, the pedigree is high.

Alex Kurtzman, the show runner also responsible for “Fringe”, says in rebooting the series that “it was about keeping the quality level the same”. One of the first questions he said that people ask him in terms of this series is “Why now?” He said what convinced him was Peter Lenkov talking about watching the show with his father. That reflected his thought within the show of a take on family since a major progression is O’Louglin’s McGarrett returning to the island to face his past. Obviously because of “Lost” finishing its run, Hawaii he says has been “wildly receptive” in bringing the show back but says they “had to be sure it was reflected in the right way”. The key, like with “Star Trek”, was that “you have to find what that original experience was about” and then “remain true to the spirit”. It becomes for him “what am I going to keep and what am I going to reinvent?” One of the aspects that they could not change was the original theme song, even explaining that they brought back some of the original musicians.

Peter Lenkov, also an exec on the show, says that his initial progression was taking the cases from week to week as the original show did. The key, in retrospect, was that it had to be the two guys (McGarett and Danno) as the principles with the latter functioning more as a foil. All of the footage is original using their 2nd unit, even to the point where they have a cameraman solely with a Canon 5D picking up cool shots on the fly. They are shooting the office building for the department directly across from where the original 5-O shot but has since become a federal building. They are trying their best to keep the talent, in terms of casting featured extras and guest stars, as local even going so far as to attend acting workshops on the island. What is most interesting for him to portray within the series is that what makes McGarett and Danno is that “they make mistakes” because “we love flawed heroes”. In terms of other cast members, Park and Kim are shooting currently in Hawaii but Lenkov calls Daniel “the unofficial mayor of Waikiki” since he knows everyone there from “Lost”. The story lines, he says, will structure in placing the fact that, in a global arena, Hawaii is the first line of America’s defense in The Pacific especially when threats are being flung from North Korea. Lenkov continues that “there is such global stakes to that region in terms of storytelling” but even on the ground, he points out there are unique problems such as “ice”, meth and human smuggling which in his definition makes for “big crimes and international stakes”. He textures also some connections to the earlier show specificying that O’Loughlin’s McGarrett will be rebuilding his father’s old car.

Alex O’Loughlin, who assumes the role of McGarrett, says that he remembers alot of the original show when he was growing up. In comparison to his earlier series: “Moonlight” and “Three Rivers” which ended abruptly, he says he feels more confident in this progression explaining that there is a reason things work or don’t work. He has seen the pilot and admits “there is something about it”. He pays his homage to Jack Lord’s McGarett saying “I love his hair” and “he started Blue Steel”. His McGarrett, he sees as “stoic in alot of ways” as “a military guy”. The difference in this aspect between his character and that of Caan’s Danno are very apparent. The key for him, as far as a character at the end of the day, is that he has to deliver. On some of the other series, through whatever perceptions, he says “shades get cut” which is “not possible in human nature” because “the more flawed you can make it, the better”.

After dictating during the presentation that when he first read the pilot, he didn’t quite get if he would work, Scott Caan says his fears were quelled when he understood that it is about seeing Danno’s personality. In discussing this aspect one-on-one, he said it came down to the fact also that he didn’t want to leave Los Angeles (which has always been his home). However now he is happy that he did. He only came in for the press tour for 24 hours but says he is already wanting to get back to the set (which was less an aspect of the publicity machine but more that he has gotten to used to the rigors of a TV shooting schedule). Currently they are only one episode beyond the pilot but in future episodes, Caan’s character will reveal his ex-wife as well as kids. In responding about the humor, Caan resolutes that it will be there but more hard-edged. His perception is that on the show, they can do anything but say the F word. The bromance element is, of course, there but the aspect is figuring out what and how it works. In making the move to television, he said he simply committed himself to doing movies for so many years adding that he doesn’t watch network TV because it is “simply not his thing” though he does say he might be back on “Entourage” though he thinks that this might be its last season.

The Defenders This series follows a pair of lawyers in Las Vegas who make sure the motor’s running but aren’t necessarily sure who is driving at any specific point. With the texture of Jim Belushi and Jerry O’ Connell filling the core, the genre specifications allows from some dexterity of play.

Jim Belushi, broaching the character structure, says that the initial interviews he did with defense attorneys just showed him that they’re just guys. They just happen to be doing a job that sometimes some people don’t find savory. Many will represent murderers and gypsies. The characters that these specific guys are based from are the subject of a documentary of the same name made by The Gantz Brothers. What intrigued Belushi is that “these guys are good on the floor but morons with women”. Some of the stories that he has heard, especially when they were shooting in Vegas, push the limit. One he mentions is of a young robber who holds up a liquor store and gets the cash but then asks for some cigarettes. The owner won’t give them to him because the kid is obviously underage and the proprietor doesn’t want to be shut down. The biggest challenge for Belushi was the aspect of the hour-long episodic series. The words here are definitively set in stone for the most part while with sitcoms you are writing every day. What is funny, he says, are that alot of the static sets are in the same location as the ones for “According To Jim”. He says he has much love for the CBS Radford Lot in Studio City. They are on the same stage. He has his same dressing room. There are five sushi restaurants nearby. He is happy. He relates though that shooting the pilot mostly in Vegas was intense. In reference back to “According To Jim”, he says that he had a contract for 8 years. When the plug is pulled on any series, he agrees “those moments are shitty but you get through them” adding that “I got it down to 3 days of morning [when] it used to be six months”.

Jerry O’Connell mirrors his riffing co-star saying that when he saw that there was interest in terms of him doing the show, he went to Jim’s house to meet him. Belushi had been watching the original documentary on these Vegas lawyers with intense interest and after a couple drinks, Jim started acting out the part. O’Connell relays that the transition from docu to TV show is very disimilar in that it mainly only shares the title. He says though, from a professional standpoint, these guys they are playing are fascinating. He also talks about when he used to go with a bunch of friends to Vegas but expresses that now he goes with his wife [Rebecca Romijn] and “we shop”. He speaks of acting across from Belushi with his “Albanian dead eyes” which he calls “chilly on-set but very exciting”. In terms of shooting the pilot, O’Connell had an interesting reaction. The call time was 1am which meant they were shooting until 3pm. He had to buy the no-sleep pulls and “was worried that my performance looked like a crackhead”. He compared it to recently when he was going to law school at night at South Western. He says the reading for that degree was “more than anybody should have to do”.

Blue Bloods This new drama series from two of the executive producers behind “The Sopranos” follows the inherent intensity within a NY power family involved in every aspect of law enforcement from the Police Chief to lead detective to beat cop. Starring CBS maven Tom Selleck who made “Magnum P.I.” there, with Donnie Wahlberg starring as his son alongside Bridget Moynahan as his daughter who works with the D.A.’s office, the possibilities are rife with tension.

Mitchell Burgess, the first of the former “Sopranos” producers, calls the series “the melding of a family drama with a police show” highlighting that their big concern was “going against too small a world” while co-creator Robin Green dictates that it comes down to “the weight and gravity”. For years, on “The Sopranos”, he says they did the anti-hero angle but they “wanted to find what a hero is today”. They discussed other cities in which to place the story but admits that nothing has the aspect of New York, where the show is shot.

In terms of bringing himself into the fold of this series, Tom Selleck, who plays the patriarch and police chief, says that, “first, the script was good, and, two, it was an ensemble that would clearly require talented actors”. While his experience on “Magnum” all those years ago would come up, he says that with that show “he was not tired of it but tired from it”. Initially when he heard thoughts that “Blue Bloods” might be shot somewhere other than NY, he took a specific look and decided that “conflicts make it interesting”. He adds that “I love my ranch and that lifestyle” and that “the location [change] was the biggest challenge” but adds that life “never works the way you plan it”. He relays that he is still working on Jesse Stone and the 7th picture, which was shot in Halifax, will be coming soon as he made sure the production schedule for “Bloods” does not interfere with that production. He says that when CBS gave up their movie-of-the-week, Jesse Stone became a two-hour event, which he is fine with. In terms of his new character he says that it is very important that the character wear the uniform which is indicative of the NY enforcement mentality. He also adds that the Chief has learned to be more diplomatic on the way up. In terms of his producer chops he says that “I don’t butt in…but I have learned things” but continues that “I am pretty good at not throwing my weight around too much”.

Donnie Wahlberg, who plays his son Danny who is a detective on the force, says that he “was attracted to the family element” of the series specifically noting that the initial dinner scene in the pilot jumped out at him because it shows “the character stuff brought into the procedural directly”. He admits that he did play some things differently than he anticipated. He adds that Selleck had “a gaze that reminds me of my dad” in that “my dad is a powerful man but that [certain elements] are always grey”. Aside from that he says that he has never felt more safe as an actor in a job.

S%&t My Dad Says This new comedy sitcom brings the powerhouse of possibility and culturally-skewed tendencies together in the form of William Shatner. The series is actually based on a book of the same name by Justin Halperin who just started writing what his dad would talk about. It became a Twitter sensation.

Bill Shatner is so one of a kind that once he starts his thought process one has to follow it through to the end which might work exceptionally well here if it is done right. He begins with this: “I have problems with electronics”. He continues with the fact that he needs to modulate what he says in that this series “has been an exploration in the immediate language.” He admits that he didn’t want to do another series but that the writing here “very precise” but adds that “physically and mentally” he is the same as the guy he is playing. He sees this character as “very much with it” and “has a snap to the way he speaks”. In ever Shatner fashion, the punchline is “if I am fumbling, it’s me” but explains that “lurching is good”.

With this new outlay, Shatner says that “I am trying to make a character that is coming from a different place”. He says that there is a passion and an anger inside this character which “we don’t quite know” saying that they fumble around with what he actually is aware of. In making reference to his own father, Shatner shares that his dad was “somewhat tactitern”. He explains that the name Shatner is Austrian and somewhat Germanic but adds that with his father there was “a silence and passion underneath”. Shatner then suddenly realizes with mock possibility: “maybe I’m channeling my father” and “wouldn’t that be wonderful”. The word play continues in flagrante with Shatner proudly stating that “this show was born in a twitter” and that “it is all a-twitter” as “an electronic show”. He loves that the show is “ahead of the curve” but still “going in a different direction”.

In terms of joining this electronic era, Shatner says that he has ignored it all until only recently. He recounts starting in live television when the cooling systems for the cameras were as big as a large coffee table. He said now they as actots can be put in Paris without leaving their Warner Brothers shooting stage. He waxes poetic saying that “the miracle and tragedy of our lives is invention” adding that it is “all about survival”.

And as far as the title, he wished they would just call it “Shit”. He says that he brought up kids. He says relating “take a shit…you’ll feel better” is what it is all about (which sent people howling) adding that “it’s a natural function” and that “let’s not pussyfoot”.

Shatner continues with an opus on fatherhood. His dad, he says, was “a man of action” and that “the worst tragedy was him taking me up to a stream in the Podstachy Mountains [in Canada]”. He builds on the fact that “my father fell in the river and lost a fish…a big bass” and that it was never the same. He speaks in relation to the series and life that “there is a warmth and connection between a father and son” but adds that that the key is to not be “overbearing”. The progression of the character he says is “an acting choice” but you have to see the “evolution” because “to condemn heartily all the time doesn’t work”.

In terms of approaching sitcom comedy, originally Shatner says he was “started slow and low and not enough”. The build for for him here entails going “through the work, camera day with an audience and then 200 people [live]” but what is most interesting for him is that the “fourth wall is totally gone”. He adds that now “the audience is aware of the process” calling his new experience “enthralling but chaotic” categorizing himself in the situation of “part minstrel and part actor”.

Justin Halperin, who wrote the book upon which the series is based, says that, in adapting his book they had to find an angle where the premise is “entertaining” because “otherwise who cares?”. He relates that his father doesn’t use the Internet because “ever since [my dad] saw the Sandra Bullock movie ‘The Net’, he’s been scarred”. Halperin admits “it is tough to get my father to a taping” but says that, in terms of comparisons between his father and Shatner, “they have the same warmness”.

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