In May, ABC‘s last-minute third-season renewal of Suburgatory as midseason replacement came at a price: lower license fee and the exit of Alan Tudyk and Rex Lee as series regulars. Lee played the high school’s guidance counselor and Tudyk was Jeremy Sisto’s country-clubbing dentist pal. Suburgatory launched well in the fall of 2011 but lost steam in its second season (It’s third-season return, on Wednesday, clocked 5.3 million viewers and a 1.6 demo rating, off The Middle’s 7.5 million viewers and 1.8 rating). Not surpringly, a Q&A session at the TCA Winter TV Press Tour began with a series of “bummer questions.”
TCA: Paul Lee “Gradulist” In Pilot Strategy; Addresses Struggles With ‘Lucky 7′, ‘Wonderland’, ‘Killer Women’, ‘The Assets’
ABC‘s Paul Lee took a middle road when asked about his take on Fox’s plan to abandon pilot season to focus its development on series. “I am a gradualist,” Lee said during the network’s executive session at TCA. “We are gradually moving forward, (evolving) the model.” He pointed to projects like new drama Black Box, which the network picked up straight to series and took months to cast in the vein of what Fox is looking to do, and he also agreed with the comments CBS’ Nina Tassler made in support of the traditional pilot season model as “the pressure and the deadlines have worked extremely well.” Lee shared how, while still in his native UK, he looked up to the American system and admired its ability to produce such large volume of content in such limited time frames. He singled out freshmen Marvel’s Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. and The Goldbergs, indicating that they will very likely be renewed. Of the older shows, Once Upon A Time, Revenge and Nashville got Lee’s stamp of approval (along with shoo-ins Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal, Modern Family, The Middle and Castle.)
There were a lot of “What went wrong?” questions during the session, understandable given the rough sledding ABC has had with most of its new shows including Lucky 7, Once Upon A Time, Betrayal, Killer Women and The Assets. Wonderland was originally envisioned to serve as a bridge between the fall and spring portions of Once Upon A Time, and instead launched in the fall in the difficult Thursday 8 PM slot. In hindsight, “I should’ve done that,” Lee said about sticking with the original plan. “We knew the creative was great, and didn’t want to be defensive on Thursday, we wanted to be offensive.” Lee said a decision on the future of Wonderland will be made soon, alluding that, even if Wonderland is not renewed, characters from it could migrate to Once. Lee called The Assets, which hailed from ABC News, “a great experiment,” a great model developed by the news division to develop entertainment programming with ties to real events. “We are going to continue with that experiment even though the show didn’t work.” On Lucky 7, whose original worked well in the UK, British-born Lee agreed with a critic that “English people enjoy other people’s misery,” but suggested that the drama, which aired at 10 PM, “would’ve done better at 8 PM.” “It was an excellent piece of television… but it didn’t resonate,” he said.
Diane Haithman contributes to Deadline’s TCA coverage.
The pilot process has been a running theme at TCA since Fox’s Kevin Reilly said his network plans to scrap the tradition. The question loomed large again at today’s panel on the new ABC drama The Black Box. Producers were asked whether the show benefited from a straight-to-series episode order.
Related: ABC Sets ‘Black Box’ Premiere
Pros and cons, said EPS Amy Holden Jones and Ilene Chaiken, who appeared on the panel with director Simon Curtis and Kelly Reilly, who stars as brilliant and bipolar neuroscientist struggling with the urge to forgo medication in order to get the creative “highs” characteristic of her disorder. Chaiken said the pilot process can make a creative team feel “constrained and competitive” and called going straight to series “a much more free way to make television. We are really being given wide berth to tell a story that’s outside of the box.”
ABC Entertainment Group president Paul Lee was guilty of some wishful thinking this morning when he told TV critics he’s so proud of his network’s upcoming limited-series Resurrection because, among other things, it’s something he’s “not seeing on television at the moment.” Resurrection, premiering Sunday, March 9, is about a small town in Missouri in which people who have been dead for years have turned up alive again and not a day older than the day they died – starting with 8-year-old Jacob who died more than three decades earlier and suddenly turns up alone in a rice paddy in a rural Chinese province.
Days earlier, Sundance Channel announced it had renewed for a second season The Returned, about a small French town in which some of the residents one day get on with their lives, not realizing they’ve been dead for years. The French series is based on the 2004 French film called Les Revenants. The second season is about to go into production and will debut on Sundance in late 2014. And, if that’s not enough, A&E is developing an English-language adaptation of Les Revenants. ABC’s limited series is based on Jason Mott’s novel The Returned.
TCA: John Logan Says He Wrote ‘Penny Dreadful’ After Re-Visiting “Poor Vengeful Monstrous Creature That Is Frankenstein”: Video
“I’m a total monster geek,” award-winning playwright turned go-to James Bond scriptwriter John Logan said when asked how he wound up writing and exec producing Showtime’s psychosexual horror series Penny Dreadful. The pay cable network has ordered eight episodes of the series that features some of literature’s most iconic monsters, including Frankenstein, Dracula, and Dorian Gray. Josh Hartnett, Eva Green, Timothy Dalton, Rory Kinnear, Harry Treadaway, Reeve Carney and Billie Piper star.
Reading a lot of Wordsworth led him to re-read Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, he explained, adding, “I started thinking about why, almost 200 years later, we’re still reading ‘Frankenstein‘ and I think it’s because the monster breaks my heart. Growing up as a gay man before that was as socially acceptable as it is now, I knew what it was like not to feel socially acceptable, but the same thing that made me monstrous to some people made me who I was.” Re-visting Frankenstein, he said, “I wept reading about the pathos and suffering of the poor, vengeful, monstrous creature.“
In Showtime‘s Episodes, Matt LeBlanc plays a fictional version of himself, working on a terrible TV series adaptation of a good British comedy series that’s airing in this country on a network run by a president “who lies…every step of the way — a broadcast network television president,” Showtime president David Nevins clarified, as he introduced the cast and creators to TV critics at Winter TV Press Tour 2014.
“There was a stalker in London,” offered creator Jeffrey Klarik.
“There was a stalker. I did not sleep with her…She was cute is all,” LeBlanc jumped in.
The prospect of returning to series television was intimidating at first, Robin Williams said Wednesday night at TCA. The star of CBS’ The Crazy Ones said the worst part was “the pressure of it being A Robin Williams Vehicle”. Now the series is more of an ensemble, and “that’s the great joy for me – the pressure is off. It’s really become something I enjoy,” he said, adding that he no longer is nagged by the pressure of ” ‘You’re back on TV. After 32 years.’ The ensemble is so good, and we’re growing,” he said, speaking glowingly of the “steady gig like this with a great group of people.”
Diane Haithman contributes to Deadline’s TCA coverage.
Is the CW’s new sci-fi series Star-Crossed a statement on racism or a teen romance? At today’s TCA, producers and cast defended the show’s right to be both. Set in the near future, the show pits the alien Atrians against the humans in the social cauldron that is high school. Borrowing a page from Romeo And Juliet, human girl Emery (Aimee Teegarden) is in love with Roman (Matt Lanter), an Atrian.
In their questions to the panel, TV journalists noted that the strongest link between aliens and humans in the series is that they are both really, really hot.
Diane Haithman contributes to Deadline’s TCA coverage.
Golding’s classroom-favorite novel and the country down under both got discussed during today’s TCA panel on the CW’s The 100 panel. EP Jason Rothenberg said he always wanted this post-Apocalyptic tale of 100 juvenile prisoners exiled to Earth to be Lord Of The Flies “writ large.”
It’s not about what the harsh world is doing to the kids, he said, but “what the kids are doing to each other.”
Rothenberg also gamely fielded a bizarre question about whether this series, which stars Australians Eliza Taylor and Bob Morley, reflects the history of Australia with its population of convicts. The seemingly bemused Morley said: “If you drop 100 teenagers somewhere and let them go wild, they will.” Rothenberg recalled the British settlement of Australia with the establishment of a penal colony. “It’s a good metaphor for the show.”
TV critics tend not to like CBS comedies – even the ones not created by Chuck Lorre – when they first come on the scene, and only occasionally after they become ratings hits (see The Big Bang Theory), so it wasn’t entirely surprising when they lit into Friends With Better Lives during its Q&A at Winter TV Press Tour 2014.
“In the pilot everybody seems pretty miserable,” one critic noted of the multi-cam ensemble comedy from Dana Klein, about a group of 30-something friends who each think the other has it better, that’s getting the plum post-How I Met Your Mother Finale premiere slot in March.
“Is this going to get somewhat friendlier — everyone seems very unhappy,” the critic reiterated. Klein explained there is no “right” better life – that working women envy stay-at-home moms and vice versa, and how, in the show, one week the better life might seem to be that of the single woman who dates, but the next week it might be the couple with kids. It was the press tour equivalent of tossing breadcrumbs to piranha.
Diane Haithman is contributing to Deadline’s TCA coverage.
Not surprisingly, today’s freewheeling TCA panel of showrunners from CBS dramas echoed entertainment president Nina Tassler’s defense of traditional network television at her executive session earlier in the morning. On the panel were Rob Doherty (Elementary); Gary Glasberg (NCIS); Robert and Michelle King (The Good Wife) and Jonathan Nolan and Greg Plageman (Person Of Interest). Glasberg said you just can’t argue with the wider-than-cable exposure a network show can bring. “We have 18 million Facebook followers. It’s crazy,” the producer said.
After a career mostly in feature film, Nolan said he appreciates the immediacy of TV. Still, he noted that the producers had joked backstage about the pressure of producing 22-24 episodes rather than cable’s usually smaller series orders. “It’s very difficult. The [number of episodes] is probably calibrated not to the length of the season but to the exact point a showrunner will have a nervous breakdown,” Nolan said. He added that the absolute breakdown point would be 25. One of the realities of 22-24 episode orders: A single season eats up a lot of story. The panelists addressed some of the big changes that have recently occurred on their shows.
The cast and exec producers of CBS’ new cyber-cop-procedural drama Intelligence got the most dangerous assignment at the TCA Winter TV Press Tour today: wax optimistic about your show to a couple hundred TV critics two days after it did a ratings bellyflop. “Did something happen in the ratings?” creator/EP Michael Seitzman answered brightly when hit with the inevitable ratings question.
CBS is pinning great hope on Intelligence’s ability to regain the ratings ground the network once enjoyed Mondays at 10 with CSI: Miami and, to a lesser degree, Hawaii Five-0. Earlier this season, CBS unintentionally pulled a prince-and-pauper with NBC in the hour, putting the new, NBC-esque, heavily-serialized thriller Hostages in the hour, while NBC slotted its homage to CBS procedurals, The Blacklist, in the hour. NBC won.
Two weeks ago Intelligence got off to a terrific start in its out-of-timeslot premiere, clocking nearly 17 million viewers nestled between the most-watched scripted series on television, NCIS, and Person Of Interest, to become the most watched new series premiere this season. In adults 18-49, it posted a respectable 2.4 rating. But, this week, moved to its regular Monday night at 10 slot, Intelligence took a nosebleedingly steep plunge from its premiere to pick up where Hostages left off with a 1.1 in the demo. Intelligence’s soft performance was even more disappointing in that it followed solid performances by CBS’ Monday comedy block, and opposite a so-so Blacklist that lacked a Voice lead-in.
CBS is the network that probably closest adheres to tradition both in the development process and scheduling, rolling virtually its entire fall lineup during premiere week. So it is not surprising that CBS is not running to jump in with Fox in discarding pilot season. “Pilot season isn’t perfect; it certainly is a very difficult time, frustrating but it is also exciting,” CBS’ Nina Tassler said this morning during the network’s TCA session in response to Fox chairman Kevin Reilly’s announcement Monday that the network will bypass pilot season going forward. Tassler quoted a study about how working under pressure in great time constraints with a sense of urgency creates a creative adrenaline that is very productive. She also brought up success pilot stories like The Big Bang Theory and CSI, though she talked about the benefits of doing a pilot — like was the case with Big Bang – reworked and recast after the pilot came in a little rough. That is actually an argument Reilly used in his pitch for dumping the pressure-cooker pilot season for a model where promising but imperfect pilots and new series are given more time for course-correction through tweaking and recasting. “Pilot season does work for us, it’s not perfect,” Tassler said. “You cannot make those broad generalizations (about abandoning pilot season). Maybe for them (Fox) it is challenging, but for us it is part of the process that works.” Like Fox, CBS has been mixing things up with direct-to-series orders, like last summer’s breakout Under The Dome, which was ordered off scripts and a bible, and the upcoming Extant and Battle Creek.
Tassler also defended the serialized, limited-run-style dramas despite complaints about Under The Dome’s creative direction and the soft ratings performance of Hostages. “When a show does not for whatever reason take off, you can’t (blame it on the form),” Tassler said. “We felt there were a lot of great elements to (Hostages), I think we had a terrific cast, all really well done… Monday night is a tough night all around, it’s difficult to give an absolute answer.”
FX’s new vampire series The Strain is a “really original re-imagining of vampire lore” that “says something about the precariousness of our modern world” and also about the intersection of “empiricism and religion,” exec producer Carlton Cuse told TV critics this afternoon.
Then he showed critics a clip from the pilot episode.
“I got a massage just watching that,” Cuse tittered when the gore-tastic clip wrapped. Critics, who looked like the clip had had the same effect on them, were disappointed to learn from Cuse that the vampires of The Strain won’t engage in actual sex. That’s because the particular strain of vampire in Chuck Hogan’s novel trilogy on which the series is based sloughs off genitalia – no use for them.
During today’s TCA panel on the new FX drama Tyrant, Howard Gordon and Gideon Raff — who executive produce with Craig Wright — compared the story of an American family drawn into the workings of a turbulent fictional Middle Eastern nation to The Godfather. That is, as much family drama as political thriller. If there is a larger theme to the series, Gordon said, it is, “What does it mean to be a good man?”
After the panel, Gordon addressed recent grumblings that the team’s popular Showtime series Homeland may have veered too far in the “family” direction by playing out the story of Brody’s troubled daughter and her disturbed boyfriend. Gordon said he doesn’t see it that way. That story line, he said, was necessary to show the “collateral damage” to the families of the political story. “I just think people got impatient with it,” Gordon added.
TCA: FX’s ‘Justified’ EP On Final Seasons, Life Without Elmore Leonard & The Late Writer’s Upcoming Tribute
Diane Haithman contributes to Deadline’s TCA coverage.
UPDATED, 3 PM: There were plenty of plot and story questions about what’s in store for the sprawling ensemble of characters on the FX series Justified at today’s TCA. A few tidbits from EP Graham Yost: “You will see the Harris brothers again. I’m not going to tell you who you’re not going to see again.” The current fifth season will be a big season for the character of Art Mullen (Nick Searcy). In Season 6, expect more on the relationship of Rachel Brooks (Erica Tazel) and Tim Gutterson (Jacob Pitts).
But two questions loomed larger: A) Why will the sixth season be the last? and B) What life is like without the late Elmore Leonard, on whose writings the series is based?
First, the final season: “A lot of it was just figuring out how much story we had left,” Yost said. “Our biggest concern telling these stories is that we don’t run out of story and start repeating ourselves. Although there were financial incentives to keep it going, it really felt in terms of the story of Raylon Givens in Kentucky, that six years felt about right.”
UPDATED: The movie world has changed drastically, particularly in the last five or six years,” Billy Bob Thornton said when asked why he’d signed to star, along with Sherlock co-star Martin Freeman, in FX’s first limited series Fargo.
“When I was coming up, if you went to television from film it meant something was wrong…Now it’s the opposite,” Thornton told TV critics at Winter TV Press Tour 2014 for FX’s series inspired by Joel and Ethan Coen’s 1996 film of same name. The kind of “mid-level movies and higher-budget independent films” Thornton said he and his peers came up in the business making, “that doesn’t exist any more. The motion picture studios make big event movies, and broad comedies, and action movies — and movies where vampires are all models. Television has now taken that spot. For actors who want to do good dramatic work, with dark humor and drama, you have to do it on television. If you want to be a celebrity, then go to the dentist in Beverly Hills and punch somebody,” he quipped — a reference to a reported recent Kanye West encounter with a guy outside a Beverly Hills medical office.