Monday, August 10, 2009
LIVE FROM THE SUMMER TELEVISION CRITICS ASSOCIATION PRESS TOUR IN PASADENA, CA
ABC Panel Front:
ABC Series Premiere Dates:
Mark Your Calendars
Press Tour Tidbits:
Notes of Interest
Note: The Programming Insider will be on hiatus from Tuesday, August 11 through Friday, August 14. See you back on Monday, August 17 with the return of Primetime Ratings, Ratings Box, On the Air Tonight, TV Tidbits and TV Trivia Time.
There is one word to describe ABC’s upcoming fall line-up: aggressive, with seven new scripted series (four sitcoms and three dramas) and changes on Tuesday through Friday. Included is two of the most buzzed about new shows on any network: sitcom Modern Family and drama FlashForward. This is quite a switch from last fall, which only had two new shows on the line-up (drama Life on Mars and the non-scripted Opportunity Knocks).
“I think we have to remain ambitious,” said Stephen McPherson, President of the ABC Entertainment Group. “We have only succeeded when we’ve been ambitious and taken chances and really pushed the limits, whether it was Desperate Housewives, where people said, “boy, 40-year-old women,” or it was Lost, which was this incredibly high-concept, very expensive drama. Those shows have obviously been very fortuitous for us both on the creative side, ratings side and financially.
I think you have to start with the creative. And there’s no question that production cost is a major issue given all the other economic pressures we have. But I think you have to be looking at each show differently, because there are certain shows like FlashForward that absolutely demand that kind of cinematic feel and the production value. There are other shows that can absolutely be as successful or more so, but on a much larger scale because the creative doesn’t demand it. So we’ve kind of used this term “portfolio approach,” where as we’re looking at all of our development we would like to make sure that we’ve got some kind of each size, if you will.”
Unlike its competitors, ABC is known to exercise more patience, with on-the-fence current Castle making it into a second season (as did other recent dramas like Pushing Daisies, What About Brian and October Road), and sitcom Better Off Ted returning in midseason.
“I think it’s one of the biggest challenges that people in my position face is how patient can you be. And that becomes a question of how much information you have about the show,” said McPherson. “Is it being rejected? Is it slowly building? Is it stable at that level? And then, at some point, have to look at how it is affecting the rest of your schedule. We want to try to be as patient as we can, but the strike derailed us with pretty ambitious shows like Pushing Daisies.”
Since no network executive session seems to be complete without some conversation about Paula Abdul, noted McPherson:
“We would love to have her on Dancing With the Stars and whether it’s as a contestant or participant of some sort, judge, et cetera. I think she is a huge talent and there is a lot made about her in terms of who she is. There’s a sensitivity and there’s kind of an emotion to her that balances out American Idol. And we’d love to get a piece of that.”
In other ABC news, veteran Scrubs is not changing names despite the cast changes as rumored; there are no immediate plans to get back into the movie and miniseries business; and Ugly Betty was not canceled when it was removed from the schedule briefly this season. Other than TR Knight, the central cast of Grey’s Anatomy is all returning next season.
On the ABC Panel Front:
Three very different families (traditional with a working father, homemaker mom and two kids; gay who just adopted an Asian baby; and an older man married to a much younger woman) are the focus of this single camera comedy. Julie Bowen (Ed), Ty Burrell, Jesse Tyler Ferguson and former Married With Children patriarch Ed O’Neill star.
-Competition: Criminal Minds (CBS), Law & Order: SVU (NBC), Glee (Fox), The Beautiful Life (CW)
Ed O’Neill, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Eric Stronestreet, Sofia Vergara, Ty Burrell, Julie Bowen; executive producer Steven Levitan and director/co-executive producer Jason Winer.
How Ed O’Neill’s new much younger wife is different from Katey Sagal as Peg Bundy:
“I’m older. She’s younger. Peg and I were a little closer in age, although I was older than she was, Katey. And so this is a whole different deal. I’m a little over my head, I think, in this one, and it’s kind of fun to try to keep up.”
Steven Levitan on comedy versus drama:
“I think comedy is harder because to play comedy well, you have to play drama well and then add a layer of comedy, of lightness on top of that. If it’s just the lightness, then it’s something bad. But when it’s done well, it’s very complex. And there are very few people who can do it. When we’re casting comedies, the talent pool is a fraction of the talent pool available to those casting dramas. So there are very rare
talents for people who can be funny in a very real way.”
ABC is so high on Modern Family, it screened the entire pilot at its upfront presentation in May. That was a smart move: the audience laughed non-stop and the buzz began to build. Unfortunately, however, Modern Family is airing smack in the middle of a brand new two-hour sitcom block, which will be no easy feat. Unfortunately, there is plenty of competition, mainly the two crime dramas: Criminal Minds and Law & Order: SVU. And, unfortunately, ABC has not had a hit comedy in years. But as an alternative to four dramas, Modern Family could — and should — succeed if ABC exercises patience. This is a sitcom too good to pass up.
-Chance of Survival for Modern Family (Based on a scale of 1-1 to 10-1):
Since Married With Children ended in 1997, Ed O’Neill has come and quickly gone on three series: The Big Apple (CBS: 2001), Dragnet (a.k.a. LA Dragnet, ABC: 2003-04) and John From Cincinnati (HBO: 2007). His stint on Modern Family will (hopefully) be much longer.
Budding entrepreneurs pitch their ideas to a panel of venture capitalists in this new reality/competition from Survivor/The Apprentice creator Mark Burnett.
-Competition: NCIS (CBS), The Biggest Loser (NBC), So You Think You Can Dance (Fox), 90210 (CW)
Kevin Harrington, Daymond John, Kevin O’Leary, Barbara Corcoran, Robert Herjavec and executive producer Clay Newbill.
Feisty is the word to describe the Shark Tank panel as the well-dressed entrepreneurs bitched and bickered, which no doubt it the appeal behind the reality/competition. Already successful as Dragon’s Den in other countries, the name change was made to emphasize the business sharks.
“The show originated in Japan, and dragons are big in the culture there. But in the Western culture, sharks, we’ve all heard of business sharks,” said Clay Newbill. “It’s a perfect description of what actually happens in the tank because if the sharks hear something that they like, it’s unpredictable what will happen. They act just like a pool of sharks in that they may take a piece of an entrepreneur or they may fight each other and take a bite out of each other at the same time. So it’s a perfect analogy.”
Since Shark Tank launched on Sunday, August 9 (out of the return of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire), I consider this more like summer filler than an aggressive programming move this fall. Plus, ABC has confirmed that the upcoming remake of V will step into the Tuesday 8 p.m. hour on November 3. So, consider Shark Tank a “Band Aid” maneuver until V begins.
-Chance of Survival for Shark Tank (Based on a scale of 1-1 to 10-1):
Last fall, ABC aired non-scripted Opportunity Knocks in the Tuesday 8 p.m. hour and it came and went after just two episodes.
Former Everybody Loves Raymond and recent Back to You star Patricia Heaton plays the loving wife, mother of three who lives in Jasper, Indiana and is employed as a used car salesman. The cast also includes Neil Flynn, Charlie McDermott, Atticus Shafer and Eden Sher.
-Competition: Gary Unmarried (CBS), Mercy (NBC), So You Think You Can Dance (Fox), America’s Next Top Model (CW)
Patricia Heaton, Neil Flynn, Atticus Shaffer, Eden Sher, Charlie McDermott, Chris Kattan; and creator and executive producers Eileen Heisler and DeAnn Heline.
Patricia Heaton on her new role:
“I relate to every single thing. I grew up in Ohio, and since I didn’t really get a regular start in this industry until much later in life, I feel that the Midwestern roots are still really within me, and I feel
that’s where I’m most comfortable. So this is a very comfortable character for me to be in.”
And Heaton now versus when she was on Everybody Loves Raymond:
“The difference for me, when I did Raymond, was I had kids, and so my acting style got very efficient
because I had no time to work when I was at home to work on the stuff, and we worked very fast and
rehearsed. For me, and one of the reasons that I felt okay about doing a show where again I’m playing a mom in the Midwest, is this is single-camera and it’s a completely different animal. And for me to stretch
myself as an actor, it’s very difficult. I didn’t know at all how to prepare to shoot this show because there’s really no rehearsal. And I always memorize my lines as I connect them to the blocking and to the rehearsal.”
Since workplace comedy Back to You on Fox (opposite Kelsey Grammer) did not succeed, it makes sense to see Patricia Heaton back in a role similar to the one that snagged her two Emmys on Everybody Loves Raymond: harried wife and mother. While the lead-in support from Hank may not be all that bountiful, larger HUT levels at 8:30 p.m. could be beneficial. And the competition is not all that strong.
-Chance of Survival for The Middle (Based on a scale of 1-1 to 10-1):
Prior to Everybody Loves Raymond, Patricia Heaton appeared in two short-lived sitcoms: Room For Two (ABC, 1992) and Women of the House (ABC, 1995). Women of the House was a spin-off of Designing Women headlined by Delta Burke.
Former Frasier and recent Back to You star Kelsey Grammer plays a fallen Wall Street executive who returns to his hometown with his wife and kids for a fresh start. Macey Cruthird, David Koechner, Melinda McGraw and Ryan Wynott also star.
-Competition: The New Adventures of Old Christine (CBS), Mercy (NBC), So You Think You Can Dance (Fox), America’s Next Top Model (CW)
Kelsey Grammer, Melinda McGraw, Nathan Gamble, Sasha Pieterse, David Koechner; and executive producers Tucker Cawley and Mike Clements.
“The premise really has more to do with the emotional growth of the character, and that’s what I find opportunistic in the fact that he has to. He’s forced into a situation where he has to grow up. That was a similar quality in the previous show, Back to You, with Chuck. But it wasn’t quite the same thing because he was a lothario. This is a guy who’s just been sort of blissfully ignorant about some of the basic tasks of human existence. And that’s what he’s going to learn to do here. But basically it’s the opportunity to grow up, for a man to actually become a fully realized man.
He has far less equipment in terms of his life. Frasier loved clutter and conflict. This guy is not that
comfortable with all that stuff. He is a simpler man. I mean, he made his living in sports basically. He loves sports. He loves competition. He loves the American dream. He loves the idea of somebody working their way up from the bottom, and he loves the idea of making something of his life and of his family and of himself by virtue of the sweat of his brow. And so he’s far less complicated than maybe some of the pompous people. And what might be seen as pompous in this character would really be just the fact that he’s out of touch with some things that he’s either forgot about.”
Given the still sad state of the economy, do we really want to watch a “comedy” about a down-in-his-luck former Wall Street executive? Don’t we want to escape the reality so many of us have had to face?
-Chance of Survival for Hank (Based on a scale of 1-1 to 10-1):
Kelsey Grammer played the role of Dr. Frasier Crane for 20 years: nine on Cheers and 11 on spin-off Frasier. Comparably, that ties James Arness as Matt Dillon on Gunsmoke as the longest tenure for an actor (or actress) in a regularly scheduled live action role.
Based on the novel by Robert J. Sawyer, several wannabe physicians create an experiment where a group of people flash forward 20 years into the future for two minutes and 17 seconds and their lives are never the same again. The physicians struggle to find out if the future is interchangeable or not and whether the experiment needs to be repeated. Joseph Fiennes leads the ensemble cast.
-Competition: Survivor: Somoa (CBS), SNL Weekend Update/Parks and Recreation (Community at 8 p.m. after six weeks) (NBC), Bones (Fox), The Vampire Diaries (CW)
Joseph Fiennes, Dominic Monaghan, Courtney B. Vance, John Cho, Sonya Walger; and executive producers David. S. Goyer, Marc Guggenheim and Jessika Borsiczky Goyer.
The difference between FlashForward and Lost, according to Dominic Monaghan:
“There are obviously similarities – a large ensemble cast, very ambitious storyline, and a very easy way to sell the show internationally. But there are distinct differences at the same time. I don’t think we’re dealing with something as deeply rooted in a mythology that needs to be solved. I think this is a show that is probably not as sophisticated in that deeply rich mythology as Lost is.”
The show itself, according to David S. Goyer:
“A third of the characters fear the future, and they are trying to do everything they can to fight it. A third of them, their futures are aspirational, and they are trying to do everything they can to make it happen. And a third of them are kind of agnostic because they just don’t understand what it means, and they are trying to figure it out. Now, maybe fighting it is what causes it to happen, or maybe trying to cause it is what causes it not to happen. That is sort of what the show is about.”
Facing CBS’ Survivor is no easy feat. And many members of the press have criticized FlashForward for being scheduled at 8 p.m. But, once upon a time ABC’s Lost led off the night (on Wednesday). And CBS’ Survivor is not the force it used to be. So, there could — and should — be room for FlashForward.
-Chance of Survival for FlashFoward (Based on a scale of 1-1 to 10-1):
A divorced 40 year-old woman with a teenage son finds her life getting complicated after she starts dating a man 14-years her junior. Courteney Cox stars.
-Competition: Criminal Minds (CBS), Law & Order: SVU (NBC), Glee (Fox), The Beautiful Life (CW)
Courteney Cox Arquette, Ian Gomez, Christa Miller, Busy Phillips, Dan Byrd, Josh Hopkins, Brian Van Holt; executive producer Bill Lawrence; and co-executive producer Kevin Biegel.
“Getting older is harder anyway, but living in Hollywood’s exceptionally hard doing it. But what I love about my character is everything’s real. It would be really scary if I wasn’t married and I had to go back out there again. And it is true most men date women that are younger. Or I could go out with someone older and it’s a hard world, and I think that they deal with it beautifully.”
Although the premise is not exactly unusual, the pilot felt comfortable and it is good to see Arquette back in a prime-time sitcom. (let’s forget about recent FX drama Dirt). If lead-in Modern Family generates some steam (if ABC is patient, it might), Cougar Town has a shot of succeeding. Too bad, though, that executive producer Bill Lawrence barely let Arquette, or anyone else, speak at the panel.
-Chance of Survival for Cougar Town (Based on a scale of 1-1 to 10-1):
We all remember Courteney Cox-Arquette for her role as Alex’s girlfriend on Family Ties and, of course, Monica on Friends. But in 1985, the then young actress appeared on one of the biggest flops in the history of television, Misfits of Science on NBC. I bet it is not on her resume!
A group of amateur crime fights who refer to themselves as the “Identity Network” solve cases with unidentified victims. Reiko Aylesworth, Rochelle Aytes, Michelle Borth, Anthony Carrigan, Rupert Perry-Jones, Grace Olivo and Bob Stephenson star.
-Lead-In: Dancing With the Stars Results Show
-Competition: The Good Wife (CBS), The Jay Leno Show (NBC)
Christian Slater, Rochelle Aytes, Michelle Borth, Anthony Carrigan, Bob Stephenson, Heather Stephens; executive producers Jerry Bruckheimer, Jonathan Littman and Lukas Reiter; and director and executive producer Mark Friedman.
Jonathan Littman on the of the typical crime drama:
“It’s pretty much the same on any crime drama. Somebody is going to be dead. The goal at the end here is to not only bring justice, but it’s to bring closure to a family that does not know the whereabouts of someone who is missing or someone who has crossed paths with a criminal. I think the real goal is actually fairly uplifting at the end when you’ll see the whole thing together because there is that sense of closure and peace brought to a family and someone’s going to jail.”
There are two positives from the get-go: strong lead-in support from the live Dancing With the Stars Results Show and a time period occupied by three new series. In other words: nothing is proven. But (there is always a but!), the pilot felt flat. The show does not seem all that original. And a much better show called Eli Stone could not find an audience in this time period last fall.
-Chance of Survival for The Forgotten (Based on a scale of 1-1 to 10-1):
Christian Slater, a former kid star, made his theater debut in The Music Man at the age of 9. Last fall he headlined short-lived drama My Own Worst Enemy on NBC.
Based on the John Updike novel and the 1987 feature film, three single women who live in the New England town of Eastwick discover they have supernatural abilities after they meet a devilishly sexy man. Lindsay Price (Lipstick Jungle), Sara Rue (Less Than Perfect), Rebecca Romijn (Pepper Dennis), Jon Bernthal and Paul Gross star.
-Lead-In: Cougar Town
-Competition: CSI: NY (CBS), The Jay Leno Show (NBC)
Rebecca Romijn, Sara Rue, Lindsay Price, Jamie Ray Newman, Paul Gross and creator and executive producer Maggie Friedman.
“This is a show about women. It’s a show about empowerment. It’s a show about friendship. But we feel like it’s very different from Desperate Housewives. And we were actually very conscious, and ABC wanted us to be conscious, of not trying to copycat or do things that they had done. We are definitely our own world, our own universe. It’s a very unique show that, hopefully, will appeal to the same people because that’s a good show.
The movie it’s a very iconic movie. It takes place in the ’80s. It’s very much of that time. And we feel like this version is contemporary. It’s about problems that people are dealing with today. And the characters are very different. In the movie, the magic is sort of ephemeral. You don’t really understand where it’s coming from or what it’s about. And in this version, each of the women has a very specific power that she’s dealing with that sort of reflects back on her life’s journey and her problems. And it’s just a very different world but, hopefully, evocative of the same sense of fun and sex and all that good stuff.”
Eastwick could, of course, be a female alternative opposite male-driven CSI: NY on CBS and potentially older-skewing The Jay Leno Show on NBC. But why was it suddenly necessary to remake a movie (The Witches of Eastwick) that came out in 1987?
-Chance of Survival for Eastwick (Based on a scale of 1-1 to 10-1):
Certainly not the best actress in the world, wooden Rebecca Romign was nominated for a Razzie Award as Worst Supporting Actress for Rollerball in 2002.
ABC Series Premiere Dates:
Mark Your Calendars
To refresh your memory, what follows are the roll-out dates for the new and returning ABC series:
Saturday Night Football: Saturday, Sept. 5, 8 p.m. ET
20/20: Friday, Sept. 11, 10 p.m. ET
Dancing With the Stars: Monday, Sept. 21, 8 p.m. ET
Castle: Monday, Sept. 21, 10 p.m. ET
The Forgotten: Tuesday, Sept. 22, 10 p.m. ET (new)
Dancing With the Stars Results Show: Wednesday, Sept. 23, 8 p.m. ET (special day and time)
Modern Family: Wednesday, Sept. 23, 9 p.m. ET (new)
Cougar Town: Wednesday, Sept. 23, 9:30 p.m. ET (new)
Eastwick: Wednesday, Sept. 23, 10 p.m. ET (new)
FlashFoward: Thursday, Sept. 24, 8 p.m. ET (new)
Grey’s Anatomy: Thursday, Sept. 24, 9 p.m. ET
Extreme Makeover: Home Edition: Sunday, Sept. 27, 7 p.m. ET (two hours)
Desperate Housewives: Sunday, Sept. 27, 9 p.m. ET
Brothers & Sisters: Sunday, Sept. 27, 10 p.m. ET
Shark Tank: Tuesday, Sept. 29, 8 p.m. ET (new)
Hank: Wednesday, Sept. 30, 8 p.m. ET (new)
The Middle: Wednesday, Sept. 30, 8:30 p.m. ET (new)
America’s Funniest Home Videos: Sunday, Oct. 4, 7 p.m. ET
Ugly Betty: Friday, Oct. 9, 8 p.m. ET (two hours)
Supernanny: Friday, Oct. 16, 8 p.m. ET
Press Tour Tidbits:
Notes of Interest
-FX Original Programming Air Dates:
Cable net FX, which was here presenting on Friday morning, has announced the following series/season premiere dates for 2009-10:
Sons of Anarchy: Tuesday, Sept. 8, 10 p.m. ET (second season-premiere)
It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia: Thursday, Sept. 17, 10 p.m. ET (fifth season-premiere)
Nip/Tuck: Wednesday, Oct. 14, 10 p.m. ET (sixth season-premiere)
Archer: fourth quarter 2009 (new, no specific premiere date at present)
Damages: January 2010 (third season)
Lawman: Spring 2010 (new)
Rescue Me: Spring/Summer 2010 (sixth season)
Comedy Testes, which was canceled by FX, will remain in production for a second season on Canadian television.
-FX Executive Session:
John Landgraf, the President and General Manager of FX, addressed the audience in a session that accentuated the cable network’s rising number of pilots. “We’ve done three drama pilots and
three comedy pilots this year,” he said. “The network has never made six pilots simultaneously. Of those pilots, we’ve already picked up two — Archer and Lawman from Tim Olyphant and Graham Yost.
Although other basic cable networks like ABC Family, TNT and USA continue to add more hit scripted dramas to their rosters, the strategy at FX remains intact.
“I think where we will continue to differentiate ourselves by taking big risks. We will continue to make shows that are as original as we can possibly devise or buy, and we’ll continue to make shows specifically for adults as opposed to for families. I think there’s absolutely a place in television for safer programming or programming that people can watch with the whole family. I’m glad that programming exists. I have a family. But I think there’s also a place for programming for adults, and HBO and Showtime cover that well within the premium cable space. There is a place for that in basic cable, and FX is going to continue to be that place.
It’s really hard to see a show like The Shield go, but you have to look at these things as an opportunity. You know, we had an extraordinary moment of success in the two-year span that The Shield and Nip/Tuck and Rescue Me were all launched, and now that those shows are reaching maturity that represents an opportunity. So, I think that’s one of the reasons you’re seeing such an active production and development slate for FX. We’ve had to be very judicious because we wanted to sustain and support these shows through fruition.”
-Dr. Memhet Oz:
Upcoming Sony Pictures Television talk show host Dr. Mehmet Oz was at The Press Tour on Friday, invigorating the audience with his endless knowledge of medical issues coupled with a relatable presence. The show, according to Dr. Oz:
“I will always make Oprah Winfrey proud, and I will make you proud as well. We’ll make mistakes. I’m accountable for what I say, but I’ll change my mind if it’s wrong and make it clear to you why. I want to challenge America. I want to make it clear that we care for America. I want to listen to America. You know, it’s a talk show, but it’s really a listening show for me because the show is about you, and it’s only going to work if it maintains that basic promise and that premise.”
As I have personally said since NATPE, Dr. Oz is indeed the new first-run strip to keep a positive eye (or two) on. He’s got both the goods and the clearances. But if we all lived by his formula of your waist being less than half the size of your height in inches, the world would be anorexic.
Lost star Elizabeth Mitchell, who will be back on the show in some capacity for its final season, had this to say about that experience in ABC’s closing session on the upcoming remake of V:
“I loved my role on Lost. I thought it was incredibly rich, and I enjoyed every minute of playing it. And I really thought I was going to take a break in between doing that and doing this and doing the bit of Lost that I had left. And I have to say that my manager called and said that Morris had read the V script and that he really liked it. So I read it, and I really did fall in love with the character. I like playing a traditional hero. I don’t think I’ve ever done it before, and I think it’s big shoes to fill because we’ve had some amazing heroes. So I’m incredibly excited, and I do feel like it’s a lot, and I’m hoping to step up to it.”
Note: The regular sections of The Programming Insider — Prime Time Ratings, Ratings Box, On the Air Tonight, TV Tidbits and TV Trivia Time — will return on Monday, August 17.