Diane Haithman is contributing to Deadline’s coverage of TCA.

TCA: NBC Renews Overall Deal With Greg Daniels, Signs Pacts With Gary Sanchez Prods, Sean Hayes & More From Exec Panel
In his executive session this morning at TCA in Beverly Hills, NBC entertainment chairman Robert Greenblatt, addressing the idea that NBC wants to raise its stakes in the scripted comedy business, admitted only half-jokingly that introducing a new comedy in any time slot in today’s TV landscape is like “standing in the middle of the 405.” And at TCA, NBC’s new comedy Free Agents, based on the British series, was the first to merge onto the freeway in a late-morning panel.

The Wednesday night show, described by the network as a “crooked romantic comedy” from creator John Enbom and director-producer Todd Holland, stars Hank Azaria and Kathryn Hahn as two corporate PR executives — read damage control experts — whose own personal lives are more of a mess than the people they represent. Hahn’s character drinks too much to cover her pain over the death of her fiance. Azaria’s character is a divorced dad who apparently is as outspokenly miserable as Ray Romano’s character in TNT’s recently cancelled dramedy Men of a Certain Age. In the series, the two grapple with the aftermath of an unexpected romantic tryst.

In answer to a question about whether emotionally fragile men represent an entertainment trend, Azaria said: “It might be reflecting society … men are being allowed in a real way to show their vulnerability. Our generation was raised to be allowed to have our feelings … when I was divorced I was doing worse than our character.”

For her part, Hahn joked about this being a chance for her to play glamorous for a change — but also said she liked delving into a character whose “armor is so polished, but underneath she’s just a mess.” (Holland noted after the panel, however, that the American series would lighten up on the “British miserableness” of the original).

Cast and producers boasted about the ensemble nature of the show, and with its large cast the panel indeed resembled a flash mob. Cast member and comedian Al Madrigal said that he expects no problem in juggling his recently acquired duties as a correspondent on The Daily Show With Jon Stewart with his new series role, although he said that NBC would like him to spend “as much time as possible” on Free Agents.

Cast member Joe Lo Truglio, who remained silent throughout the panel, finally piped up at the end with a zinger aimed at the assembled reporters: “For my first Comic-Con, you guys look amazing!”

Asked after the panel whether another NBC workplace comedy represents deliberate counterprogramming to ABC’s warm family behemoth Modern Family, Holland — who with his life partner became the father of triplets just over a year ago — said the move “wasn’t craven on any level” and added: “Americans work more than any other culture in the world — it reflects our reality.”

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