From a reflection of how much the culture has changed in the past year — hello, Season 2 of “Transparent” — to the sci-fi special abilities of “Heroes Reborn,” the second half of the semi-annual Television Critics Association press tour showcased a diverse array of new programming, some old favorites, reboots, spinoffs — and some star-making turns.
New and returning shows were presented from Aug. 3-13 by Amazon Studios, CBS, Hulu, DirecTV, NBC, ABC, the CW, Warner Bros. Television, Fox and cablers including Showtime, FX, CNBC, Sprout, USA, Syfy, Reelz and ABC Family.
Held in the Beverly Hilton’s International Ballroom, the nets, streamers and studios presented panels with executives, creators and talent who fielded questions — most thoughtful, some groan-worthy — from television reporters.
Here are some of the highlights:
Leave it to “The Muppets” to steal the show as the Disney/ABC Television Group kicked off a day and a half of panels, previews and a lively party that went well over its scheduled end time as talent, producers and media types mingled in a much more cohesive fashion than “Blood & Oil.”
That was another one of the net’s new shows, starring Don Johnson and Chace Crawford, creating a buzz around the Beverly Hilton. Set in a rare milieu for television — North Dakota — the drama centers on a working-class couple pitted against a powerful oil tycoon. Fans of Johnson going back to his “Miami Vice” days will enjoy seeing him play the ruthless Hap Briggs.
Miss Piggy, Kermit, Fozzie Bear and other beloved Muppet characters will star in the new series “The Muppets,” which in a mockumentary style will also incorporate celebrity guests and musical guests — including Reese Witherspoon and Imagine Dragons — on the late-night talk show that Miss Piggy hosts. Like the variety show that “The Muppet Show” was in the 1970s, this new incarnation aims to keep the audience laughing with its skewering of pop culture and now, reality television. Kermit and Ms. Piggy even announced their breakup to promote it, releasing a statement saying that they each will be seeing “other people, pigs, frogs, et al.”
More comedy is in store from Season 2 of “The Goldbergs” and the new “Dr. Ken,” which features comedian Ken Jeong, of “The Hangover” and “Community” renown, in a workplace-family sitcom.
Jeong was asked whether he was fazed by comparisons to ABC’s “All American Girl” with Margaret Cho, the network’s last show starring a Korean-American standup comic. While noting it was a different era 20 years ago, he said the biggest difference is that Cho’s comedy and creative input were not incorporated into the fabric of the show.
The new series is loosely based on his life as an HMO practitioner, a profession he took so seriously that patients often recommended he chill out and take a vacation. It was his wife who advised him to take the leap from being a doctor to a comedian.
Another person who takes her work very seriously is Shonda Rhimes, whose production company Shondaland oversees three ABC dramas on Thursday nights, “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Scandal” and “How to Get Away With Murder.”
Her much anticipated panel, called “TGIT,” also featured each series’ leads, Ellen Pompeo, Viola Davis and Kerry Washington, along with executive producers Betsy Beers and Pete Nowalk. Asked what’s in the secret sauce of her success, Rhimes declined to be specific, as she did with many of the questions, although she lightened up when discussing her guest starring role on “Mindy.“
“I did it because I said I would say ‘yes’ to something I’m afraid of,” the prolific producer said. “It turned out to be fun. They were really nice and kind and made me look good. What I learned is I don’t know a thing about acting. I can’t walk and talk at the same time.”
It’s not just about “Transparent,” whose second season is dropping on Dec. 4 and is likely to pick up some Emmy Awards next month from its 11 nominations, the most for any comedy series. The streaming service is placing big bets on what it calls its most ambitious pilot to date, “Casanova,” which features Diego Luna as the legendary 18th century Italian lover. Its other new drama pilot, “Sneaky Pete,” stars Bryan Cranston, Margo Martindale and Giovanni Ribisi.
The studio’s top three programming executives, Roy Price — who spearheaded the move into original content — Joe Lewis and Morgan Wandell, stressed that it is imperative that their shows stand alone, rather than being part of a schedule.
“That show that would get you from 8:30 to 9 — a goodish show. That has no value to us if it’s not going to be (someone’s) favorite show,” Price said. Upcoming, a Woody Allen-helmed series set for the second half of next year.
New CBS late-night host Stephen Colbert stole the day — and the hearts and minds of critics — as he introduced himself off-stage before taking a seat right in the center to answer questions about inheriting the David Letterman throne on the Eye at 11:35 p.m.
Earlier in the day, the network presented an executive session with entertainment chair Nina Tassler, followed by panels on programs that included the highly anticipated “Supergirl,” (which many have thought should be on sister network the CW); “Code Black,” a heart-pounding medical drama starring Marcia Gay Harden; “Limitless,” a procedural based on the feature film starring Bradley Cooper, who is also an executive producer; and “Life in Pieces,” a single-camera family comedy starring James Brolin, Dianne Wiest, Colin Hanks and Betsy Brandt.
But back to Colbert, and the raucous 30-minute session in which he apparently coined the term “dry-Trumping.” Colbert says that’s what he’s doing — and praying — to ensure that the controversial, loose-lipped presidential candidate Donald Trump stays in the race until “Late Show with Stephen Colbert” premieres Sept. 8.
The Second City alum, whose improv training was put to effective use fielding fast, furious and sometimes funny questions, gave the room the first look at a trailer, spoofing a Viagra commercial, with him on a motorcycle and a hot young woman who hops on for the ride. At one point, he turns around on the seat and presents her with a sparkling necklace.
Colbert discussed how he’d maxed out his character on his Comedy Central show and welcomed the opportunity to be his authentic self on the new program and be truly interested in his guests, announcing that the first ones will be George Clooney and Kendrick Lamar.
“Not having to run everything I said through my character’s bible in my head has been amazing,” he said, and also referred to his character as a “tool.” “And so, I actually feel more freed up.”
For the first time, CBS is now owning and producing its marquee late-night shows, “Late Show” and “The Late Late Show with James Corden.” “We are now owners, not renters. And we look forward to all the traditional and emerging revenue opportunities this brings,” Tassler said.
A surprise live dance performance to an original song kicked off the presentation for the network’s upcoming “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,’ originally intended for Showtime as a half-hour and now expanded to an hour. Star and executive producer Rachel Bloom charmed critics with her humor and candor, discussing the “crazy” part of the title and how she was bullied as a young teenager and suffered depression.
The musi-comedy follows her character from New York City, where she is a successful lawyer, to West Covina, Calif., as she chases down a high school sweetheart, played adorably by Vincent Rodriguez.
Creator Aline Brosh McKenna said the series doesn’t look down on suburbs like West Covina. “For her [Bloom’s character, Rebecca] it’s a wonderland to explore new things, an affectionate look at someone from a big city coming to a smaller town,” she said, where the local mall becomes a set piece for production dance numbers.
Bloom grew up in Southern California but said she always felt like a neurotic Woody Allen type who loved Broadway and that this show fits in perfectly with those sensibilities.
The CW also made a splash when network President Mark Pedowtiz announced that Britney Spears will guest on “Jane the Virgin,” a buzzy show that he admitted he was disappointed did not receive Emmy nominations for its creator, Jennie Snyder Urman, and its lead, Gina Rodriguez, who have been recognized by the Golden Globes, the Peabody Awards and AFI.
Co-Chairs Dana Walden and Gary Newman kicked off a busy day by discussing the network’s post-“American Idol” plans, which include a reboot of “Prison Break,” a version of “24” but without the Jack Bauer character played by Kiefer Sutherland — um, wonder how well that would work — and a possible “X-Men” limited series in conjunction with Marvel.
There’s also a chance “Wayward Pines” could return for more episodes, and of course the much anticipated new version of ”The X-Files” with stars Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny is on the horizon.
While acknowledging the influence of streaming sites releasing all episodes of a series at once, Newman said the cultural impact is not the same as when a show connects weekly with its audience.
“We’re mindful that consumers want to watch things in certain ways,” Newman said. “But clearly there is an ability for (viewers) to connect deeply with the method of turning out for shows week after week.”
Fox presented panels on a bevy of new shows, starting with what looks to be a favorite, “Scream Queens,” from Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk. John Stamos stars in “Grandfathered,” with his character described as “a swinging guy like George Clooney.” The “Full House” alum plays a lothario who discovers he’s a father and grandfather at the same time. Perhaps to avoid any questions about his reported recent stint in rehab, Stamos and other cast members did not participate in the traditional scrum, a mosh pit-like situation in which reporters endeavor to ask questions while crowded around the subject.
New dramas “Minority Report” — based on the Steven Spielberg movie — and “Rosewood,” a procedural starring Morris Chestnut, were showcased, as was the 67th Primetime Emmy Awards (Sept. 20) to be hosted by “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” star Andy Samberg and produced by veteran awards show maestro Don Mischer.
Perhaps the best came last, the creators and stars of Fox’s breakout hit “Empire.”
“I’m having the time of my life,” said Taraji P. Henson, who is Emmy-nominated as lead actress for her role as scene-stealer Cookie, the take no prisoners matriarch of the Lyon family trying to make up for the lost time that she served in prison.
The hip-hop series, created by Lee Daniels and Danny Strong, will go from 12 to 18 episodes in this next season, which will be broken into two parts.
CEO John Landgraf made headlines by saying there is too much television after he meticulously counted the number of original scripted series, predicting it will pass 400 this year.
“My sense is that 2016 or 2017 will represent peak TV in America, and then we will see a decline,” Landgraf said. “There is too much competition. “It is hard to find good shows … and I believe it’s impossible to maintain quality control.”
Creators appear to love Landgraf and the cable network for the support and artistic freedom they provide. Foremost amongst them, Guillermo del Toro and Carlton Cuse with “The Strain”; Kurt Sutter, who on the heels of “Sons of Anarchy” is bringing “The Bastard Executioner”; Noah Hawley, with a second season of the acclaimed miniseries “Fargo”; and of course, Brad Falchuk and Ryan Murphy’s newest entry into their “American Horror Story” canon, “Hotel.”
“Bastard” debuts Sept. 15 with a two-hour premiere, “AHS: Hotel” on Oct. 7 and “Fargo” on Oct. 12.
The lead character in “Bastard,” set in Wales and played by Lee Jones, is a 14th century warrior whose life changes when a divine messenger urges him to lead the life of a journeyman executioner. Stephen Moyer, appearing entirely differently than his “True Blood” days, although still with bad teeth, and Katey Sagal co-star, and pop singer Ed Sheeran has a role. Sutter and the cast joked that they didn’t want shiny, white teeth of the current era to detract from the period drama.
In addition to returning favorites Sarah Paulson, Kathy Bates and Angela Bassett, “Hotel’s” cast includes Lady Gaga, Matt Bomer, Wes Bentley, Cheyenne Jackson and Chloe Sevigny. The new edition of “Fargo,” set in the 1970s, features Patrick Wilson, Kirsten Dunst, Ted Danson and Jesse Plemons.
Viewers who have been missing Jay Leno can catch him beginning Oct. 7 on CNBC with “Jay Leno’s Garage,” an eight-episode hour-long prime-time series in which the former “Tonight Show” host hits the road and covers everything on four wheels including classic cars, super cars, restoration projects and investing in the car collectors’ market.
CNBC also brought “West Texas Investors Club,” which bowed Aug. 4, about three venture capitalists who made their money in oil and gas and now invest in start-up businesses. One of the trio is Rooster McConaughey, whose brother is actor Matthew.
NBCSN spotlighted “Mobsteel,” which premiered Aug. 16, an eight-episode reality skein focused on a Detroit custom car shop run by Adam and Pam Genei and their team of specialists. It leads into the sports network’s NASCAR coverage.
USA showcased “Colony,” an espionage thriller starring Josh Holloway; and “Donny!,” a comedy featuring ad exec Donny Deutsch as a fictional character who is a daytime talk show host. It’s being billed as an homage to “The Larry Sanders Show” and similar to “Curb Your Enthusiasm” in that it is somewhat improvisational.
Syfy will launch what it calls its most ambitious project, ”The Expanse,” for a two-night premiere Dec. 14 and 15, following “Childhood’s End,” based on Arthur C. Clarke’s 1953 book about a peaceful invasion by alien overlords.
Along with news of Jimmy Fallon’s “Tonight Show” contract being renewed through 2021, NBC Entertainment chief Bob Greenblatt said that “Celebrity Apprentice” will return, at an undetermined date, without Donald Trump. Greenblatt noted Trump was always professional during his time with the network and that there were no controversies. “The world likes a star, and he’s a star,” Greenblatt said.
The Peacock Network showcased a host of new dramas, including the latest from Dick Wolf, “Chicago Med,” starring Oliver Platt and S. Epatha Merkerson. Platt’s character is a psychiatrist who’s been married four times and has a child from each marriage.
“This man [Wolf] never does anything that people don’t enjoy watching,” said Merkerson, who was on “Law & Order” for 17 years. “TV at its best is a teaching tool as well. If you’ve picked up something and enjoyed what you watched, that’s a hell of a show.”
Other new dramas include Las Vegas-set action series “The Player” starring Philip Winchester and Wesley Snipes; and “Blindspot,” a buzzy thriller from creator Martin Gero and EP Greg Berlanti centered around a mysterious tattooed woman — played by Jaimie Alexander — found emerging from a bag in Times Square, with her ink as clues to a number of crimes around the city.
Dolly Parton brings “Coat of Many Colors,” based on her hit song and set in Tennessee when she was an 8-year-old girl, to NBC at Christmastime, and announced that another TV movie is in the pipeline, based on “Jolene.”
Neil Patrick Harris fronts a new eight-week variety show based on a U.K. format, “Best Time Ever,” premiering Sept. 15. “It’s a game-changer,” said Harris. “Nothing like this has been done before, and its unique structure fits right into my random skill set. I can’t wait to roll up my sleeves and have some fun!”
We last saw him as Brody — being hanged in one of “Homeland’s” most searing scenes — oh, and as Henry VIII on PBS “Masterpiece’s” “Wolf Hall” (in which he’s Emmy-nominated as supporting actor).
Now Damian Lewis will be back on Showtime as a hedge fund titan in “Billions,” revolving around the power of New York’s financial industry, alongside Paul Giamatti, Maggie Siff and Malin Akerman. Noted financial journalist and author Andrew Ross Sorkin is an EP on the 12-episode series, set for Jan. 17, 2016, following the Season 6 premiere of “Shameless.”
Showtime president David Nevins also announced pickup of the fourth seasons of “Ray Donovan” and “Masters of Sex.”
The premium pay cabler is going heavy into documentaries, with features on Jimi Hendrix, politician Barney Frank, football player Tony Gonzalez and Marlon Brando on the slate. Also upcoming, and sure to generate a huge amount of interest, “American Dream/American Knightmare,” an Antoine Fuqua-directed documentary on rap mogul Marion “Suge” Knight, scheduled for Sept. 26.
Musician Patti Smith’s memoir “Just Kids” is being adapted into a limited series.
A panel on “The Affair,” in its second season, had creator Sarah Treem defending the new storylines, which had several critics confused and even a bit irate.
“Some viewers are getting it. We’re not doing it to make sure everyone understands it perfectly. The points of view are so divergent,” Treem said. “The truth is stuck in conversations between those points of view – and viewers bring their own reality and prejudices, creating a third point of the triangle.”
The “Masters” panel was much more lighthearted. “I’ve been trying to master sex my whole life,” said new cast member Josh Charles, who joins Michael Sheen, Lizzy Caplan and company in the drama, which has moved into the 1960s in its depiction of sex researchers Masters and Johnson.
It’s worth noting this TCA first, that the CW presented a panel made up solely of femme executive producers.
“Running the Show: The Women Executive Producers of the CW” featured Aline Brosh McKenna (“Crazy Ex-Girlfriend”), Jennie Snyder Urman (“Jane the Virgin”), Gabrielle Stanton (“The Flash”), Diane Ruggiero-Wright (“iZombie”), Wendy Mericle (“Arrow”), Julie Plec (“The Vampire Diaries,” “The Originals,” “Containment”), Caroline Dries (“The Vampire Diaries”) and Laurie McCarthy (“Reign”). In addition to those who appeared, there are four other women EPs of shows on the network, making gender disparity there an apparent non-issue.
But at least one of the questions they took was of the unenlightened variety: whether they could write for men. “Once you break it down, you can’t take away from the fact that we’re writers,” said Ruggiero-Wright. “I did a lot of writing for aliens,” added Stanton, with a smile. “I don’t know if they were men or women.”