With a few exceptions mostly on the cable side (FX, Nickelodeon, Showtime), the networks kept the summer Television Critic’s Assn (TCA) press tour that wrapped Friday light on announcements. The event isn’t making much news anymore to focus on its main purpose – showcasing new shows. Mostly those that didn’t make it to Comic-Con, which has been stealing much of the TCA summer’s buzz for the past couple of years as the first choice for TV networks and studios to unveil some of their most-talked-about new series. After TCA trimmed its length from three weeks to two over the last decade, the days are often packed with panels. And those panels are followed by reporters sprinting to the stage for the “scrum” – the unofficial name for the crush of TV journalists that always gathers around the panelists afterward to get the real story. (Which kinda makes you wonder why we don’t just skip the panel and go straight to the scrum?) A long TCA tradition, these huddles no longer produce explosive stories like former ABC exec Steve McPherson’s “Be a man” challenge to NBC’s Ben Silverman at the 2007 summer tour. Then again, CBS’ Nina Tassler prompted laughs when she used the scrum to assess her former sitcom star Charlie Sheen’s new FX series Anger Management: “Not my cup of tea.” Scrum or not, a few news stories managed to infiltrate this summer’s TCA. Here’s a breakdown by network and in order of appearance at TCA:
Diane Haithman contributes to Deadline’s TV coverage.
ESPN revealed plans for its 30 For 30 Shorts, an offshoot of its 30 For 30 documentary series, at today’s TCA panels. The short films, ranging from 3 to 12 minutes, will be produced in collaboration with Bill Simmons’ Grantland.com. The shorts will first be presented on the website beginning September 26 and later will be featured on all of ESPN’s digital platforms, said Connor Schell, vice president, ESPN Films.
And on the panel was the subject of the first installment, Arnold Schwarzenegger. The first short focuses on the former California governor’s teenage years with the Austrian Army.
Just before the panel featuring Schwarzenegger and Michael Zimbalist, co-director of the short, ESPN presented a panel on 30 For 30 Volume II, featuring directors of the next crop of 30 documentaries on sports figures that begins in October and continues through 2014. Included on the list was Billy Corben, director of Broke, a documentary about athletes who squander their fortunes. He joked that his appearance was just a “screensaver” until Schwarzenegger arrived. (The other “screensavers” were Coodi Simmons, co-director of Benji and Michael Bonfiglio, director of You Don’t Know Bo).
At the top of Starz’s portion of the TCA summer press tour, the network’s president and CEO was asked about the decision to end the costume drama Spartacus after the upcoming third season. Albrecht said he joined Starz when the network was editing the first season of the show. “When I saw the ending of the first season, I said: ‘Uh-oh’, Spartacus just exited the franchise; it exited the Upstairs, Downstairs aspect of gladiators and Romans living together”. With the gladiators taking to the hills and the Romans in town, “we had to tell two distinct stories, and that is never the ultimate way to do a TV series”, Albrecht said. The series also had to deal with the departure of beloved original star Andy Whitfield. “Ultimately, rather than trying to string the story with one more argument, one more villain showing up, we decided to follow the historic trajectory and bring Spartacus’ story to an end. Better leave viewers wanting more than diminish the overall impact of the franchise”.
Spartacus creator Steven S. DeKnight, who is under an overall deal at Starz, is already working on his next project for the pay cable network. “Steven just returned from Hawaii where he shot ‘proof of concept’ for a show he’s developed”, Albrecht said. That show is sci-fi drama Incursion, which Albrecht described as “Band of Brothers meets Halo” and involves a lot of creatures.
Albrecht also gave an update on Starz’s upcoming series. Da Vinci’s Demons, which is currently in production, is eyed for the end of first quarter or second quarter of 2013. The series stars Tom Riley as young Leonardo Da Vinci. The Michael Bay-produced pirate drama Black Sails is currently in pre-production in South Africa where standing sets are being erected with the goal to also build one or two boats. The series is looking at a launch in early 2014, possibly inheriting the Spartacus slot.
Diane Haithman and Ray Richmond contribute to Deadline TV coverage.
2ND UPDATE: Deadline never picked up these media rumors. Today Aaron Sorkin characterized them as “unsourced and untrue” that he had fired nearly all of the writers on The Newsroom. Sorkin brought up the matter during HBO‘s presentation before anybody asked. Sorkin also said there is no truth to the second part of the rumor: That one of the writers, Corinne Kingsbury, is the only writer who was spared because she is Sorkin’s ex-girlfriend. The Daily repeated the rumors first, followed by The Hollywood Reporter. (No wonder The Daily is firing nearly 30% of its staff…) The stuff “got repeated all over the place,” Sorkin said.
“The writing staff was not fired, OK? Just seeing that in print is scaring the hell out of the writing staff. They are acting very strangely, they are coming to work very early … I want the old gang back. It is a fantastic group of men and women to come to work with.” Sorkin did cop to a couple of staffing changes he said were made at the end of the season but said that they were mostly promotions of two writers assistants to staff writers. (While he did not address that, there are reportedly 2 writers from Season 1 of Newsroom who are not coming back.) Sorkin also stressed that Kingsbury is not neither an ex- or current girlfriend: “She is on the staff for the same reason everyone else is on the staff.” He added: “I think she is at the beginning of a very exciting career and I would hate for this rumor impact her career or follow her around for the rest of her life,” Sorkin said of Kingsbury, adding jokingly: “That’s Kingsbury with a ‘g’.”
He added that he had no girlfriends, either previous or current, on the writing staff.
HBO at first canceled Sorkin’s TCA appearance. But Sorkin stressed afterward in the huddle that he would have none of that running and hiding from his critics. “I said, ‘No, reinstate it’,” Sorkin confirmed afterward.
“I wanted to talk to the press.”
Ray Richmond contributes to Deadline’s TV coverage.
“He ruined my career but he didn’t ruin my life.” That was the defiant stance actress Tippi Hedren took this afternoon during HBO‘s panel session at TCA promoting the original HBO Films docudrama The Girl that premieres in October. The film stars Toby Jones as Alfred Hitchcock and Sienna Miller as Hedren in the story of the iconic director’s obsessive relationship with his leading lady during the making of the features The Birds and Marnie in 1963 and ’64. In a macabre moment, the real-life Hedren emerged for the panel carrying a stuffed, frightening-looking bird. But the winged creature, and Hedren’s intense scenes in the horror film, were nothing compared to her nightmare in staving off the unwelcome advances of Hitchcock. Asked to describe what it was that the director felt for her, Hedren admitted, “I don’t know what to call it. It was something I’d never experienced before. It wasn’t love. When you love someone, you treat them well. We are dealing with a mind here that is incomprehensible. And I certainly am not capable of discerning what was going through his mind or why. I certainly gave no indication that I was ever interested in a relationship with him … He was evil, deviant, almost to the point of dangerous because of the effect he could have on people who were totally unsuspecting.”
Diane Haithman is contributing to Deadline’s TV coverage.
At today’s TCA panel on Showtime‘s Homeland, co-creator and executive producer Howard Gordon was asked about another on-again, off-again project: Whether there is still a chance of a 24 movie. He says yes — possibly. “My understanding of that is, having gone quiet in a way that I didn’t think boded well for that, there’s been some stirrings recently, so I think it’s something everyone’s gunning for,” said Gordon, also an executive producer of 24. “As far as whether my work on [Homeland] will impede that — not at all. There’s a script that’s been written, and I think the issues now are more about the director’s schedule and Kiefer’s [Sutherland] schedule.”
After the panel, which also included executive producer Alex Gansa and series stars Claire Danes, Damian Lewis and Morena Baccarin, Gordon also had a comment about the failure of the NBC series Awake, on which he was also an executive producer. “I knew it was a very steep challenge,” he said.
But back to Homeland, whose new season will open with two episodes shot in large part in Israel, standing in for Beirut. Aside from questions about the development of the lead characters, questions arose about whether Danes’ pregnancy would affect production. “We’re about midway (through Season 2), we’re shooting Episode 6; this hasn’t run into any interference,” Danes said. She added that the physicality of her role had her a “little concerned” at first, but “it’s proven to be a non-issue. All is well and Carrie remains fervently nonpregnant.”
At the top of the Showtime executive session at TCA, entertainment president David Nevins announced that cancer comedy The Big C will conclude its run with a “special limited run of 4 hourlong installments. “From its inception it has been unique in tone,” Nevins said of the dark comedy, praising creator Darlene Hunt and showrunner Jenny Bicks, who, along with star Laura Linney, are set to return for the final chapter. “The show began in the summer in Season 1, went through spring and winter in Seasons 2 and 3″ and will conclude in “a new form-breaking way.” The departures of The Big C and Weeds have been part of what has been “a transformative year for us,” Nevins said, “time for renewal and reinvention when we’re saying good-bye to some beloved series and getting ready to welcome some new ones.”
Nevins also gave an update on the status of several other Showtime series. He said that drama Dexter going for two more seasons is still “the likely scenario”, but “I’d be stupid if I didn’t leave the door open… Everything is getting rewired this season in an interesting way, we’ll see where that carries us.”
CW’s Mark Pedowitz On ‘Selection’, ‘Battle Royale’ Development Plans, Digital Route With Comedy, Shorter Drama Orders: TCA
The CW remains high on the concept of young people battling each other. The network last season developed the Hunger Games-esque The Selection, an adaptation of Kiera Cass’ book. The project went to pilot but didn’t make the cut to series. “I’m a big believer (in the concept)”, the CW’s president Mark Pedowitz said during the CW’s TCA executive session. “The producers did a very good job, but it wasn’t where we wanted to be tone-wise, we wanted it to have a Hunger Games/Game Of Thrones-type tone.” Elizabeth Craft and Sarah Fain, who wrote the original pilot, are back rewriting it.
While Selection is still in the works, the CW also is looking to put a development a series version of the 2000 cult Japanese movie Battle Royale, Pedowitz confirmed, stressing that talks are very preliminary. The film is about a group of school children sent to an island where, on the government’s orders, they must kill each other until one remains. Asked about the rationale behind going after such a violent premise involving school-age kids shooting and killing other kids, especially in the current environment, Pedowitz said that “we’re not planning anything that we cannot get on the air; we won’t go in that direction.”
After the session, Pedowitz noted that his team is in conversation with Warner Bros TV about more projects based on DC properties to join new drama Arrow. “Even if Arrow does not work — and I hope it does work for a lot of reasons — we plan to continue developing comic characters,” he said.
The CW continues to be interested in bringing back comedy series to the network, but the plan is being put on the back burner until “we stabilize the schedule,” Pedowitz said. Last season, the network developed eight half-hour scripts. It held onto two of them — an adaptation of the 2009 British comedy FM and the Craig Zadan- and Neil Meron-produced Swordfighting – for midseason consideration. Now Pedowitz said there will be no movement on the comedy front until after the CW fall lineup premieres but the network will continue to selectively buy comedy pitches. He also said that, instead of going down the traditional pilot route, “we may do it through digital,” testing comedies online before making a decision whether to migrate them to TV.
Doing yet another postmortem on cancelled Sarah Michelle Gellar drama Ringer, Pedowitz noted that “22 episodes a season may be too many” for a heavily serialized drama, with six or 13 probably more manageable. (New CW serialized drama Cult will run a 13-episode first season.) Pedowitz also repeated his statement from the upfront that the CW has invited Gellar to come back to the network as an actress or producer.
Pedowitz was asked about the CW’s ratings woes (the network recently earned a 0.0 overnight rating for a repeat of 90210). He reiterated that overnight ratings have little meaning for the network. “We look at it through an aggregation, (including digital platforms)”, he said. “We can measure who’s watching us on digital, but it does not count with the Nielsen ratings.”
CBS is known to take shots at its competitors, and the network’s entertainment president Nina Tassler came out swinging this morning. She walked out on stage for the CBS TCA executive session carrying a plush monkey, a jab at NBC, which brought in the monkey from its new comedy series Animal Practice to its TCA presentation and party, where she shared the lion’s share of attention with fellow guest Sarah Palin.
“It’s been a TCA full of cell phone announcements from the stage, monkeys, Sarah Palin, renegotiations. I couldn’t resist,” Tassler said of the TCA events from this past week that also included Fox Entertainment president calling new American Idol judge Mariah Carey during Fox’s executive session. While boasting about CBS’ ratings success (the network finished again as the most watched network and No. 2 in 18-49 to Fox this past season), Tassler took issue with another comment from Reilly who said on Monday that Fox’s reign as the top network among adults 18-49 may come to an end next season when CBS has the Super Bowl and AFC Championship Game. “According to Kevin Reilly ‑‑ thank you, Kevin ‑‑ we’ve just been awarded the 18‑49 crown for next year. Thanks, Kevin, but I think we’ll try to earn it before we claim it.”
Tassler confirmed that the network is in talks with 20th Century Fox TV and creators Carter Bays and Craig Thomas for a ninth season of veteran comedy How I Met Your Mother. (Tassler’s “pet monkey” wore a HIMYM tie too!) “The show had an incredible year last year,” Tassler said. “We’re having conversations right now about extending it, we want the show to come back next year. We’re still in early conversations, we’re not there yet in terms of resolving the situation, but we’re pretty optimistic.” Talks for a potential Season 9 are starting early because of the concept of HIMYM, which will lead to the reveal of who the mother is, so planning for a final season has to start way in advance. “Craig and Carter have a very strategic wrapup for the show,” Tassler said.
At ABC’s executive session this morning ABC chief Paul Lee fielded questions about the state of the cast salary renegotiations on Modern Family, which have been difficult and resulted in a lawsuit and a table read rescheduling this week. “I expect the season to start on time,” Lee said. “We are in the middle of negotiations, and we’re hopeful and optimistic we will be able to resolve it”. While negotiations are led by Modern Family producer 20th Century Fox TV, “we are with 20th in this, we are full partners”, Lee said. I hear Lee and ABC’s head of business affairs Jana Winograde have been very involved in the process. The network will take over production cost for the show in a couple of years.
Lee also was asked about the top BBC job that he was reportedly offered but didn’t pursue. “I’m living the dream why would I”, Lee said. “I have one of the best jobs in television, I love this job. I’ve been in the U.S. for 15 years, and my sons are American, my family are Americans. I love ABC, it’s a brand I’m loyal to”‘.
Despite the fact that ABC’s schedule only features two multicamera comedies next season, Last Man Standing and Malibu Country, both on Friday, Lee reaffirmed the network’s commitment to the multicamera genre and confirmed that ABC will be “re-piloting” its multi-camera pilot from this past season, Kings Of Van Nuys, which is based on one of Lee’s favorite British series, Only Fools And Horses. The pilot script has now been reworked, and deals are being made with the entire original cast, led by John Leguizamo, to return.
Ray Richmond contributes to Deadline’s TV coverage.
The producers of the new high-concept NBC drama Revolution couldn’t have seen it coming, but the forthcoming Monday night adventure from the stable of exec producer JJ Abrams could well find themselves at Ground Zero this fall in the suddenly hot-button issue of gun control. The fantasy series surrounds one family’s attempt to reunite in an America that is entirely devoid of electronics and modern technology. It’s also a dictatorship in which conventional firearms have been banned and people instead arm themselves with antiquated weapons like muskets. In the wake of last week’s movie-theater shooting in Aurora, CO, many could see Revolution as a politically-driven piece of left-wing propaganda.
Ray Richmond contributes to Deadline’s TV coverage.
Dick Wolf made a rare appearance during NBC‘s TCA presentation this morning at the Beverly Hilton to trot out Wolf Films’ first non-Law & Order-branded series in six years, the new firefighter drama Chicago Fire. He assured critics that the show isn’t anything close to his usual procedural but proved too fascinating a subject to resist. “There are very few franchises or areas that give you the opportunity to really explore character,” Wolf, flanked by his cast, said. “It’s not fire of the week. It’s a character study about people who do things that you can’t pay people to do. You can’t pay people to run into burning buildings. So it is a canvas for good writing. And writing that you haven’t seen for a while on network television. It is a big, full broadcast show with multi characters and multi storylines going. And the writers room could be put in a book about screenwriting.” Wolf insisted the show is designed in the same tone as what he called NBC “platinum dramas” from the past like ER, Hill Street Blues — and Law & Order. “It’s hopefully in the tradition of these shows that have become, for better of for worse, iconic,” Wolf added. “These shows are never written down to the audience. It all goes back to the writing. There’s never been a good show with bad writing, and there’s few bad shows with good writing. Quality does out…The secret of success on television is writing. That’s it.”
David Geffen is notoriously press and camera shy. (Unless it’s with Maureen Dowd or Barbara Walters.) But he appeared at TCA today for the upcoming PBS American Masters: Inventing David Geffen documentary billed as an “unflinching” portrait of his life. He was brief with his answers to reporters and critics, emphasizing repeatedly this afternoon that he has little to do with showbiz anymore except for the 3 million-4 million stock shares which his foundation owns in publicly traded DreamWorks Animation run by Jeffrey Katzenberg. (He pointed out that he hasn’t even seen Steven Spielberg’s upcoming Lincoln yet “but I’ve heard it is very good” from DreamWorks 2.0.) Geffen said today it would be “impossible” to raise the $2 billion financing that formed the original DreamWorks which he co-founded back in 1994 with Spielberg and Katzenberg as the first new Hollywood studio in 50 years. “I don’t think it can be done today for a start-up. I don’t think anyone can raise $2 billion, I couldn’t do it today.” Geffen repeatedly spoke about the differences in showbiz between when he was coming up in the biz – and now. One of the most dramatic changes? “The demise of the DVD has a huge impact on the finances of the business,” he said. “The business model has changed. The industry will exist in very different ways than we experience it today. It’ll still be here. But I think there will be industries that will be far more profitable.”
Specifically about the film biz, Geffen said, “The biggest movies in the world have no stars in them today. Avatar has no stars. Avengers, with the exception of the small role that Robert Downey Jr had in it, had no stars. Today it is the story not the stars,” the mogul said. (He bluntly said Rock of Ages bombed because “it was a bad movie.”) Geffen did say what’s still the same is how hard it is to get into showbiz. “It was very hard then, and it is now. A very hard bullseye to hit.” His own early years as a working class Brooklyn boy in the William Morris Agency mailroom in 1964 spanned into the music industry and his early success
Diane Haithman contributes to Deadline’s TV coverage.
It came as no surprise that panelists at the TCA presentation to discuss PBS’ 2012 election coverage were asked whether the Colorado movie theater shooting would affect the debate in the upcoming presidential campaign and election. Panelists included Gwen Ifill of Washington Week and PBS NewsHour; Judy Woodruff (PBS Newshour); Raney Aronson, deputy executive director of Frontline; Maria Hinojosa, co-host of the new program Need to Know and John F. Wilson, PBS senior vice president and chief television programming executive.