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OPEN MIC BLOG
Hillary Atkin

How Netflix and the Other Streamers Raised the Bar This Year at TCA

Aug 15, 2016

Streaming services have not only joined the summer TCA fray in full force, but in the case of Netflix, which reportedly spent $6 billion on content this year, have doubled down on traditional broadcast and cable networks in how their programming is presented during press tour at the Beverly Hilton.

Netflix

As it has with content distribution in general, Netflix upended the linear format by presenting several concurrent panels from which attendees had to choose, since no one has yet figured out how to physically be in two places at once.

One such mashup occurred between “Narcos,” which is coming back for a second season, and the buzzy new “Stranger Things.” We opted for the former, surprised to find the panel in a small room where some of the cast and producers sat on couches and didn’t use microphones, which are standard operating procedure in the International Ballroom.

Premiering Sept. 2, “Narcos” Season 2 picks up after Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar, played by Wagner Moura, escapes from prison.

“It’s very character-driven,” Moura said. “I had to deal with emotions like loss of power and money and the family being endangered. I had to put myself in his shoes. We see him very vulnerable. Pablo was very aware. He wanted to be loved and accepted. He wanted his kids to attend elite schools, and he wanted to be president of Colombia. We wanted to show the gray zone between the bad guy and the Robin Hood. He had charismatic powers that leaders have.”

Another simultaneous presentation came with “Beat Bugs,” an animated children’s show featuring Beatles music performed by artists including Pink, Eddie Vedder, the Shins, Chris Cornell and Sia, and a “Stranger Things” experience.

Again, we missed out on “Stranger Things,” opting to hear more about “Beat Bugs,” which recently began streaming. It features original characters — five friends who band together in an overgrown suburban backyard — created by Josh Wakely, an Australian who directs, writes and produces the series. He obtained the rights to more than 50 songs in the Beatles catalog, a three-year process.

Wakely said he was inspired by how children were magnetized by the melodies of Beatles songs and is thrilled about bringing their music to a new generation — and hopes Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr will engage with the show.

“Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life” is certain to engage fans who loved the original incarnation of the series, which ran on the WB and the CW, all seven seasons of which (153 episodes) began streaming on Netflix July 1.

Four new 90-minute episodes will premiere Nov. 25, picking up nine years after the original and featuring returning cast Lauren Graham, Alexis Bledel, Melissa McCarthy, Scott Patterson and Kelly Bishop.

The new chapters are no longer about a high school girl and her mom, said creator Amy Sherman-Paladino. “Now it’s about two women, chicks — they can sit and drink and talk about shit,” she said, and also noted she initially argued with Netflix about releasing all four episodes at once, but eventually got with the program.

Netflix also showcased “The Crown,” “The Get Down,” “Last Chance U,” “Black Mirror” and “Luke Cage,” featuring a black superhero played by Mike Colter and co-starring Alfre Woodard.

Like its other Marvel Comics-based shows, “Daredevil” and “Jessica Jones,” “Luke Cage” is set in and filmed in New York.

“In black culture it is important to have positive images, said Colter. “We just want to tell a unique story, but we have no agenda. I hope the black community can feel good about him.”

Netflix also put on a unique panel made up only of four-legged creatures who didn’t take any questions, although they did take treats from their handlers.

The dogs of Netflix, including the drug-sniffing German shepherd Ranger from “Narcos,” two corgis from “The Crown” and Paul Anka, Lorelai’s dog on “Gilmore Girls,” took their seats on the stage of the International Ballroom and amid periodic barking, posed for countless pictures.

The day ended on an even higher note when Grandmaster Flash, who is a consulting producer on Baz Luhrmann’s $120 million “The Get Down,” demonstrated his groundbreaking hip-hop techniques on two turntables (and a microphone) and recounted his early days in the South Bronx in the 1970s as the genre was just emerging onto the scene — and before it even had a name.

Hulu

Hulu’s TCA presentation featured plenty of comedy with “The Mindy Project” and “Triumph’s Summer Election Special 2016,” when creator Robert Smigel got the proceedings under way with a ribald guest appearance by the cigar-chomping Insult Comic Dog.

First up on the insult list, Hulu itself. “Time Warner, Comcast, Fox, even Disney — with so many fingers inside, it could easily be a member of the Duggar family,” Triumph said, also remarking that TCA actually stands for the “Triple Chin Association” — and calling out a few members who could stand to lose a few pounds.

Mindy Kaling was asked a number of times about the differences after having her show on Fox — where it appeared for three seasons before it was canceled and picked up two weeks later by Hulu, which commissioned a fourth 26-episode season.

Kaling reveled in the creative freedom that comes with the move, yet refrained from saying anything negative about Fox — a familiar stance among those involved in low-rated yet critical and fan favorite shows that are jettisoned by traditional networks and then find new life in the streaming space.

“I wasn’t ready to say goodbye to the show. I’m so grateful,” Kaling said. “I’m such an ambitious person and I’m so grateful to Hulu for giving us this opportunity. They came in to save us and I acknowledge that. And 26 episodes is more than I’ve done on any series I’ve worked on. It went from being “we’re never going to do this show again” to “we’re going to have more work, we’ll [employ] these people and a crew. That means so much, it makes me really emotional.”

An “International Intrigue” panel featured showrunner Peter Carlton from “The Last Panthers,” “My Mad Fat Diary” writer and creator Rae Earl and “The Musketeers” executive producer Jessica Pope, along with lead actor Jonas Nay of “Deutschland 83.”

Also showcased by Hulu were two original dramas, “Shut Eye,” which stars Jeffrey Donovan and KaDee Strickland in a drama set in the world of fortune tellers and psychics, and “Chance,” which features Hugh Laurie as a forensic neuropsychiatrist alongside Gretchen Mol and Ethan Suplee.

Donovan, who is known for nearly always playing the alpha male, said he was attracted to the character Charlie Haverford in “Shut Eye” because he is anything but that. “This is not an alpha type and it’s a big challenge,” he said. “Whether I’m succeeding or not, it’s something that I wanted to do. I researched a lot on mentalists. I wanted to know, what are the skill sets.”

“They’re doing their best to tell you what you want to hear,” Strickland added. The actress said she doesn’t believe in psychics or palm readers and personally tested one by going in without her wedding ring and predictably was told, “You’re going to meet a man …” When she mentioned that she was in fact married, the psychic shifted on a dime and told her, “Oh, your husband knows him.”

Always a hypnotic presence, Isabella Rossellini — who did not attend TCA — co-stars as a character who was described as a cunning, charismatic and sadistic matriarch.

On the “Chance” panel, Laurie — who also recently appeared in AMC’s miniseries “The Night Manager” — was asked to compare the new series with his previous eight-season run on Fox’s “House,” including a silly observation from one of the critics that both of the shows are one-syllable words.

Laurie, who is also an executive producer on the 10-episode drama, in which his character gets sucked into a violent world, said there are no similarities — and seemed thankful to put the grind of a 22-episode network season schedule behind him.

“I was intrigued by telling one story in 10 episodes,” he said. “I don’t see any similarities with ‘House.’ The characters are massively different and the story that unfolds is infinitely removed.”

The noirish tale seems to also become Mol, who recently inhabited memorable roles on “Mozart in the Jungle” and “Boardwalk Empire.”

Amazon

For its TCA day, Amazon broke down its presentations of original series by their length — one hour and half-hour — of which Woody Allen’s much anticipated “Crisis in Six Scenes” will enter the 30-minute ranks, joining the acclaimed “Transparent” and “Mozart in The Jungle” along with “One Mississippi,” “Red Oaks” and “Fleabag.”

On the hour-long side, Amazon showcased “The Man in the High Castle,” “Good Girls Revolt” and “Goliath.”

The residents of the “High Castle,” set in a fictional world created by author Philip K. Dick in which the Allied powers lost World War II and Germany controls the East Coast while Japan controls the West Coast, talked about the series’ resonance in today’s politically divisive climate.

“Even though it’s alternative history, it is close to reality, although we’re dealing with a world where big things happen and people don’t speak up,” said Rupert Evans, who stars in the program. “When you become complicit in part of what goes on around you, when people become afraid, they want to give up their rights. What does it take to give up these values that were sacrificed for? In the world of the show, it seems a stark difference but it resonates with what’s happening today.”

One thing that wasn’t discussed in detail was the departure earlier this year of showrunner Frank Spotnitz, who developed the series and remains as an executive producer. The panel did mention other news — that viewers will finally meet the man in the high castle and will be introduced to a new character in Season 2, Bella Heathcote as Nicole.

“Good Girls Revolt,” bowing Oct. 28, will take viewers back to 1969, when the women’s movement was gaining traction in workplaces across the country except, apparently, in newsrooms. The main storyline is inspired by a landmark sexual discrimination case and mixes fictional with actual characters, including Grace Gummer playing Nora Ephron and Joy Bryant as Eleanor Holmes Norton, the lead attorney in the case. Dana Calvo and Linda Obst executive produce.

“It has less to do with legality but how the case galvanized these women and changed their relationships with their families and co-workers,” Calvo said. Obst mentioned that one of the advantages she had by living through the era was firsthand memories of the free-spiritedness of the time. “One of my roles was to imbue it with some of the fun we were having,” she said.

Yet the serious issues — reflected just in yesterday’s headlines about sexual harassment allegations against former Fox News chief Roger Ailes — are the underpinnings of the story.

“Now there is a language for being harassed,” said Erin Darke, one of the lead actors. “No matter how far we’ve come, I still feel like I’m learning there are things that you put up with that you shouldn’t have to.”

“Goliath,” whose 10 episodes premiere Oct. 14 on Amazon Prime Video, is also set in the legal system — but present-day. Developed and executive produced by people intimately familiar with the ins and outs of legal dramas, David E. Kelley and Jonathan Shapiro, it stars Billy Bob Thornton as a down and out lawyer seeking redemption, William Hurt, Maria Bello and Olivia Thirlby.

Unlike Kelley and Shapiro’s other shows, such as “Boston Legal” and “The Practice,” this one follows one story through the entire season (eight hours) and is set in a huge corporate law firm that generates more than $1 billion in annual revenues.

“Litigators are now the slumming jobs in law firms,” Kelley said. “We used to believe that law was where democracy could thrive, that someone wronged could get their day in court, but that’s not true anymore. Law firms became big corporate giants and trials cost too much and take too long to get to a jury. The thought that democracy still has a chance is what the David versus Goliath battle is. The attorneys [in our show] are fighting for their clients — and truth is not high on the priority list.”

Thornton’s take on the series puts it high on our viewing priority list. “I think people are drawn to antiheroes. I’ve played a few,” he said, eliciting laughter from the audience. “This for me is more of a guy whose sense of justice is not exactly what’s legal but what’s fair. Every person has their flaws. The ‘Fargo’ guy was an out-and-out villain, but this guy also has a dark side.”

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